Photo above: The Herbalife Ltd. logo is displayed outside of the company’s corporate headquarters in Torrance, California.
(Photographer: Patrick Fallon/Bloomberg)
Herbalife short seller Bill Ackman took to a Manhattan stage for nearly four hours Tuesday morning in his latest round against the global nutrition company. In a Monday interview with CNBC, Ackman claimed he would deliver Herbalife a “death blow” in the planned presentation, but it has had the opposite effect on the company’s stock. With one of its largest daily percentage increases thus far, the direct seller closed out the day at $67.77, up 25 percent.
“Once again, Bill Ackman has over-promised and under-delivered on his $1 billion bet against our company,” Herbalife said Tuesday afternoon in its response to Ackman. “After spending $50 million, two years and tens of thousands of man-hours, Bill Ackman further demonstrated today that the facts are on our side.”
The focus of Ackman’s presentation was Herbalife’s nutrition clubs, run by teams of distributors who rent commercial or industrial space to train and recruit others in a social environment. Ackman described the structured recruiting model as a “mini pyramid scheme” used by the company to target the “poorest of the poor” globally, and particularly U.S. Latinos.
At one point Ackman fought back tears recounting his own family’s American experience, which began when his grandfather emigrated from Germany. He claims Herbalife is “selling the American dream” by promising its salespeople success many will never achieve.
“Mr. Ackman’s claim about the earnings of Herbalife nutrition clubs is completely false and fabricated,” Herbalife included in its response. “In fact, according to a recent study commissioned by the company, 87.5 percent of nutrition club operators feel good about the money they earn, and 92 percent want to continue with their club.”
Ackman also took shots at Herbalife supporters and endorsers, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and soccer stars David Beckham and Lionel Messi, saying they failed to perform due diligence on the company and are cashing in on a fraud. Albright’s connections likely enabled Herbalife to enter difficult markets like China, Ackman claimed.
Explaining how Herbalife has built a thriving multibillion-dollar business over more than 30 years, Ackman invoked the deception of totalitarian regimes, the Nazis and the mafia. “People generally believe big lies, because they’re so bold that how could they possibly be false?” said Ackman.
The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) launched a formal investigation of Herbalife in January 2013, but thus far has not made any charges against the company. “I think that’s a failure on the part of the SEC, even though they are hard-working, high-quality people,” Ackman noted.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also opened an investigation into Herbalife in March of this year. In April, the Department of Justice, the FBI, and Attorneys General in New York and Illinois launched their own investigations into the company.
Today Herbalife also released the findings of an economic analysis performed by former FTC economist Dr. Walter Vandaele of Navigant Economics, LLC. Herbalife commissioned Vandaele to assess the company’s standing as a legitimate multi-level marketing (MLM) firm.
The assessment included factors such as end-use consumption of the product, as well as its intrinsic value and market demand. In summary, Vandaele found that “Herbalife’s U.S. business operations are consistent with the socially beneficial MLM model and inconsistent with the socially harmful pyramid scheme model.”