Shares of Herbalife (HLF +14.8%) pop on a 5x surge in volume after investors regain confidence that the company "ain't done yet." In this morning's webcast, Mr. Ackman presented the findings of the investigation into the firm's Nutrition Clubs (NC) that Pershing Square sponsored. Unfortunately for shorts, there was little new information that would portend a collapse of the company. The investigative team looked into > 240 Nutrition Clubs in the U.S., Mexico and six other countries. There are > 37,000 NCs in Mexico that account for 75% of HLF's business in that country. Latinos figure prominently in Herbalife's growth.
Investigative reporter-cum-analyst Christine Richard was the person who gave Mr. Ackman the idea of shorting Herbalife. She led the investigative effort into the NCs. She says that the clubs make money via the "certification" process for aspiring NC owners. They work for free, must consume and pay for product each time they report to a club and must deliver at least 10 repeat customers to the teaching club before they are allowed to open their own. The total investment is ~$3,000 which is similar to the initial investment in inventory for Supervisor status, it's just spread out over time. Mr. Ackman asserts that the NCs use deceptive tactics and violate labor laws by forcing people to work for free.
According to the company, 33 - 41% of its earnings are derived from NCs. If they were to be shut down (by government action) the company would face a catastrophic collapse. Mr. Ackman believes the proportion is as high as 50% of earnings. He admitted that Canada is the only government that has looked into the situation thus far.
As a crowning touch at the end of presentation and prior to the Q&A, Mr. Ackman called Herbalife CEO Michael Johnson a predator and a criminal. He then got emotional as he described his immigrant ancestors' pursuit of the American Dream. Regrettably, the camera didn't pan the audience to see how many members were teary-eyed as well.