Bill Ackman denies his ‘hell is coming’ warning was meant to stoke coronavirus fears

Hedge fund boss Bill Ackman made $2.6 billion by betting against the markets just days after stoking fears by saying 'hell is coming' and begging President Donald Trump to shut down the country amid the coronavirus pandemic

Hedge fund boss Bill Ackman made $2.6 billion by betting against the markets just days after stoking fears by saying 'hell is coming' and begging President Donald Trump to shut down the country amid the coronavirus pandemic

Hedge fund boss Bill Ackman made $2.6 billion by betting against the markets just days after stoking fears by saying ‘hell is coming’ and begging President Donald Trump to shut down the country amid the coronavirus pandemic 

Investor Bill Ackman has denied that a TV interview during which he said ‘hell is coming’ was designed to tank the markets and enable him to make $2.6billion last week as the nation reeled from the coronavirus outbreak.

The hedge fund mogul who heads Pershing Square Capital Management told investors on Thursday that his emotional interview with CNBC on March 18 was fueled by genuine concern for the country.

‘Shortly after the show, I heard that some had interpreted my remarks as being very bearish on the market,’ Ackman said.

‘The idea that my appearance pushed the market down an additional 4% that day is absurd.

‘Yes, I got somewhat emotional as I talked about protecting my immune-compromised father from the ravages of the virus.

‘But, I had become bullish because of my belief that the entire country would soon go into lockdown, and that would be the fastest and best way to minimize the impact of the virus.’

During the impassioned interview with financial cable news channel CNBC, Ackman urged American business to stop share buybacks and to preserve cash.

‘America will end as we know it. I’m sorry to say so, unless we take this option,’ he warned.

‘We have an invisible, silent, deadly enemy. How do we kill it? Everyone just goes home.’

On March 18, Ackman told CNBC that a 'shutdown was inevitable' and that 'hell is coming'

On March 18, Ackman told CNBC that a 'shutdown was inevitable' and that 'hell is coming'

On March 18, Ackman told CNBC that a ‘shutdown was inevitable’ and that ‘hell is coming’

Ackman has denied claims the interview was designed to help tank the markets, enabling him to hedge his bets and turn a profit

Ackman has denied claims the interview was designed to help tank the markets, enabling him to hedge his bets and turn a profit

Ackman has denied claims the interview was designed to help tank the markets, enabling him to hedge his bets and turn a profit 

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He warned the hotel and service industry would be compromised by the market turmoil, and that Boeing ‘will not survive’ without a government bailout.

In a Twitter rant that same day, Ackman urged President Trump to shut down the country for a month, saying it was the ‘only answer’ to spare the nation from economic catastrophe.

‘Mr. President, the only answer is to shut down the country for the next 30 days and close the borders. Tell all Americans that you are putting us on an extended Spring Break at home with family. Keep only essential services open. The government pays wages until we reopen,’ Ackman tweeted.

‘No one defaults, no one forecloses. A 30-day rent, interest and tax holiday for all. The shutdown is inevitable as it is already happening, but not in a controlled fashion which is extending the economic pain and amplifying the spread of the virus.’

‘With exponential compounding, every day we postpone the shutdown costs thousands, and soon hundreds of thousands, and then millions of lives, and destroys the economy.

‘Please send everyone home now. With your leadership, we can end this now. The rest of the world will follow your lead. A global Spring Break will save us all.’

Later that day he clarified his remarks, saying: ‘I am confident the president will do the right thing in temporarily shutting down the country and closing the borders. If that happens, we can win the war against the virus and the markets and the economy will soar.’

Earlier this week, Ackman revealed that his firm had made $2.6billion from a one-off bet that the coronavirus outbreak would cause a global market crash.

His firm seized upon bond market turmoil during the coronavirus crisis in buying ‘credit protection on various global investment grade and high-yield credit indices’.

Desolate scenes - Wall Street in New York stands almost empty amid the Covid-19 outbreak

Desolate scenes - Wall Street in New York stands almost empty amid the Covid-19 outbreak

Desolate scenes – Wall Street in New York stands almost empty amid the Covid-19 outbreak

The bet, which was designed to protect Pershing Square Capital Management from falling stock markets triggered by the pandemic, saw his firm make almost 100 times its initial $27million investment.

The hedge fund unwound bets on the market tumbling on March 23 – just five days after Ackman gave his stark warning.

Pershing Square then began using the money it had earned to buy up shares in various companies, including the Hilton hotel chain and the coffee franchise Starbucks.

It also bought shares in Berkshire Hathaway.

‘We became increasingly positive on equity and credit markets last week, and began the process of unwinding our hedges and redeploying our capital in companies we love at bargain prices that are built to withstand this crisis, and which we believe will flourish long term,’ Ackman wrote in an online post on Wednesday.

Pershing Square’s profit from the trade could stack up as one of the most lucrative ever, if confirmed.

The hedge fund had reportedly been losing money in the first two months of 2020.

The gambit by Ackman raised suspicions that his interview from March 18 was intended to sow fear and to set the stage for a market freefall.

‘A number of press reports have raised questions about my appearance on CNBC last Wednesday, and some have even questioned whether my appearance was intended to drive down the market so that we could profit on hedges we had previously entered into,’ Ackman said on Thursday.

‘My bullish posture and my statements on CNBC and Twitter were strongly supportive of the markets,’ he said.

‘I made those statements at the time we were buying stocks and reducing our short in the credit markets.’

Ackman claimed on Thursday that his company made money even before his March 18 appearance on CNBC.

‘In fact, if you believe we move markets – a highly dubious assertion – one could argue that had I not told the world that we were bullish and were buying stocks, both equity and credit markets would have declined even more than they did, and we would have made more money on the hedges,’ he said. 

‘Greedy capitalist’ who married MIT professor linked to Brad Pitt and profited after stoking virus fears 

He’s the man who scared America witless by claiming in a teary-eyed rant that coronavirus would bring ‘hell’ to the country — and then calmly raked in a whopping $2.6 billion as his dire prediction helped cause the markets to collapse.

Hedge fund boss Bill Ackman, 53, has suddenly found himself among the most hated men in the country after his bet against the market netted him a 10,000% profit on his initial investment of $27 million.

But it was his phone interview on CNBC — where he choked up when he talked about how the virus could kill his elderly father — that helped cause the crash. Forbes labeled his intervention ‘The Billionaire Interview That Tanked The Stock Market.’ 

Ackman is on his second marriage ¿ to glamorous MIT professor Neri Oxman, 44, (pictured together in 2019) who was once linked to Brad Pitt. They had their first child last year

Ackman is on his second marriage ¿ to glamorous MIT professor Neri Oxman, 44, (pictured together in 2019) who was once linked to Brad Pitt. They had their first child last year

Ackman is on his second marriage — to glamorous MIT professor Neri Oxman, 44, (pictured together in 2019) who was once linked to Brad Pitt. They had their first child last year 

US Weekly said Pitt was 'absolutely smitten' by Oxman, an award-winning architectural designer in 2018. 'Their chemistry is off the charts.' The magazine said the two had been 'quietly dating' after Pitt had admired her 3D-printed chaises lounges in an exhibition at MIT

US Weekly said Pitt was 'absolutely smitten' by Oxman, an award-winning architectural designer in 2018. 'Their chemistry is off the charts.' The magazine said the two had been 'quietly dating' after Pitt had admired her 3D-printed chaises lounges in an exhibition at MIT

US Weekly said Pitt was ‘absolutely smitten’ by Oxman, an award-winning architectural designer in 2018. ‘Their chemistry is off the charts.’ The magazine said the two had been ‘quietly dating’ after Pitt had admired her 3D-printed chaises lounges in an exhibition at MIT

It noted that the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 1,000 points when he went on the air. ‘It hit a circuit breaker as he spouted dark doom and gloom, then closed for 15 minutes. When it reopened, it was down 2,000-plus.’

MSNBC’s Senior Business Correspondent Stephanie Ruhle called his interview ‘wildly irresponsible.’ 

‘In putting on that grand show while he was getting choked up talking about his father, he caused the markets to puke and he caused the circuit breakers to trigger,’ Ruhle added.

‘Why (would) Bill Ackman, who maybe has the right idea or very good intentions, put on such a ridiculous show and cause such damage to an already panicked market?’ she asked. 

‘That’s what’s puzzling.’

Now, though, the world knows. While the markets were in free-fall, Ackman, 53, was laughing all the way to the bank.

But it’s not the first time the boss of Pershing Square Capital — who is married to a glamorous professor who was once linked to Brad Pitt — has found himself at the center of controversy.

He nearly broke the diet product company Herbalife when he got in a public fight claiming the company was nothing more than a ‘sophisticated pyramid scheme.’ 

He spent three hours at an investment conference explaining why Herbalife would fail.

For six years he waged war against the Los Angeles-based company, most famously in a CNBC interview alongside legendary investor Carl Icahn, Herbalife’s principal shareholder.

Ackman was raised in the well-to-do town of Chappaqua, north of New York City, where Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ben Stiller and Vanessa Williams now make their homes. His father was head of a real estate financing firm. Ackman's homes are spectacular, including two apartments in a luxury building overlooking Central Park (pictured)

Ackman was raised in the well-to-do town of Chappaqua, north of New York City, where Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ben Stiller and Vanessa Williams now make their homes. His father was head of a real estate financing firm. Ackman's homes are spectacular, including two apartments in a luxury building overlooking Central Park (pictured)

Ackman was raised in the well-to-do town of Chappaqua, north of New York City, where Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ben Stiller and Vanessa Williams now make their homes. His father was head of a real estate financing firm. Ackman’s homes are spectacular, including two apartments in a luxury building overlooking Central Park (pictured) 

‘Carl Icahn unfortunately does not have a good reputation for being a handshake guy,’ Ackman said. 

Icahn shot back: ‘I wouldn’t invest with you if you were the last man on Earth!’

Eventually Ackman ended his feud with Herbalife in 2018 when the company stock was more double what he had shorted it at. 

The fight between Ackman and Herbalife was even made into a 2016 documentary film, Betting On Zero.

William Albert Ackman was raised in the well-to-do town of Chappaqua, north of New York City, where Bill and Hillary Clinton, Ben Stiller and Vanessa Williams now make their homes. His father was head of a real estate financing firm.

He went to Harvard College and then received an MBA from Harvard Business School. 

He founded Gotham Partners with fellow Harvard graduate David Berkowitz in 1992 and stirred things up by making an ultimately unsuccessful bid to buy Rockefeller Center.

He was known as a rabble-rouser with an unconventional approach — he once spent an afternoon flipping burgers at a Florida McDonald’s trying to confirm his view that the company should get out of the restaurant business and go solely into franchising.

He also owns three combined properties in the Hamptons on Long Island (pictured)

He also owns three combined properties in the Hamptons on Long Island (pictured)

He also owns three combined properties in the Hamptons on Long Island (pictured) 

He fell afoul of New York’s Wall Street-bashing Attorney General Elliot Spitzer in the early 2000s after shorting stock in the bond insurance company MBIA.

Both Spitzer and the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated in highly publicized cases. ‘We put him through the wringer,’ Spitzer said at the time.

Though he was never charged, the publicity affected Ackman. 

‘People look at you funny,’ he said. 

‘I learned it takes a lifetime to build a reputation, and someone can destroy it in a few days.’ 

He decided to change tack and launched Pershing Square in 2004. 

One of his early investments was in Wendy’s — and he immediately pressured the burger company to spin off its doughnut chain Tim Horton’s, a controversial move that investors said left Wendy’s as just a second-rate burger company without its fast-growing side business.

In a 2008 profile in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune Tim Nantell, a finance professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, called him ‘a greedy capitalist.’

‘But greedy capitalists look around for companies that are not getting every dollar out of a company they should be and they push them to be more efficient. It’s how the system works,’ Nantell added.

In 2009 Ackman defended Ezra Merkin, an associate of Ponzi-scheme fraudster Bernie Madoff. ‘Has Ezra committed a crime? I don’t think so,’ he said. ‘I think he is an honest person, an intelligent person, an interesting person, a smart investor.’

Merkin was later charged with fraud for steering billions into Madoff’s funds and had to pay $405 million in a settlement. 

Ackman is on his second marriage — to glamorous MIT professor Neri Oxman, 44, who was once linked to Brad Pitt. They had their first child last year. He had three kids with first wife, landscape architect Karen Herskovitz before their union crumbled in 2016.

US Weekly said Pitt was ‘absolutely smitten’ by Oxman, an award-winning architectural designer in 2018. 

‘Their chemistry is off the charts.’

The magazine said the two had been ‘quietly dating’ after Pitt had admired her 3D-printed chaises lounges in an exhibition at MIT.

Ackman’s homes are spectacular, a two-story penthouse on Manhattan’s West Side, three combined properties in the Hamptons on Long Island and two apartments in a luxury building overlooking Central Park, where residents have included Jerry Seinfeld, Diana Ross, Glenn Close and John McEnroe.

The combined values of the properties is estimated at around $165 million.

Ackman brought panic when he went on CNBC to discuss the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. He urged all world leaders to go on an immediate 30-day lockdown.

‘America will end as we know it — I’m sorry to say so — unless we take this option,’ he said in the interview with CNBC on March 18.

The combined values of the properties is estimated at around $165 million. Pictured: The building where the hedge fund boss owns a two-story penthouse on Manhattan's West Side

The combined values of the properties is estimated at around $165 million. Pictured: The building where the hedge fund boss owns a two-story penthouse on Manhattan's West Side

The combined values of the properties is estimated at around $165 million. Pictured: The building where the hedge fund boss owns a two-story penthouse on Manhattan’s West Side

‘Hell is coming,’ he warned.

The ‘only answer for the world is to shut the world for 30 days,’ he added.

‘We have an invisible, silent, deadly enemy. How do we kill it? Everyone just goes home.’

He claimed the sacrifice was small compared to previous generations. ‘(President Donald Trump) is not saying storm the beaches at Normandy. He’s saying’ ‘Go home. Spend a month with your family’

Earlier he had tweeted a message to Trump.

‘Mr. President, the only answer is to shut down the country for the next 30 days and close the borders. Tell all Americans that you are putting us on an extended Spring Break at home with family. Keep only essential services open. The government pays wages until we reopen.’

But while he was urging everyone to take a break, Ackman was hard at work putting his money where his mouth was.

In late February he gambled that the virus really would bring about a huge downturn in the markets. 

He spent $27 million buying portfolio protection, focusing on credit markets buying products that would protect his fund in the event of a massive downturn in equity markets.

And while the markets lost up to 30 percent of their value before this week’s rebound, Ackman was raking in billions.    

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