Bill Ackman's Fireside Chat at Invest For Kids Chicago ~ market folly

Friday, November 7, 2014

Bill Ackman's Fireside Chat at Invest For Kids Chicago

We're posting up notes from Invest For Kids Chicago 2014.  Next up is a fireside chat that Mick McGuire of Marcato Capital had with Bill Ackman of Pershing Square.  McGuire worked at Pershing before launching his own fund.

Bill Ackman's Fireside Chat at Invest For Kids Chicago

•    Pershing Square up over 30% this year. Benefiting from a Jim Bean sale, Platform Specialty, Air Products, Burger King, Herbalife continue to play out, Pershing Square Holdings and other newsworthy items.

•    Allergan (AGN) – revised their disclosure to include they are in active merger discussions with what Bill thinks is Actavis.
•    Ackman believes VRX can offer the most value versus Actavis. VRX has demonstrated track record for material acquisitions. More comfort with VRX vs. Acatvis. Actavis could be the white knight perhaps.
•    Either party will have to offer stock in the deal. Allergan has put themselves up for sale.
•    Thinks the best thing is that AGN asks for bids from VRX/Actavis and take the best/highest bid. December meeting is relevant. Co did everything they can to stop shareholders from voicing their views.
•    Incentive to negotiate before directors get thrown off.
•    AGN – essentially a management change with many synergies if VRX acquires.

•    Fannie and Freddie (FNMA / FMCC) now. They were short when Mick was at Pershing. Increased exposure in light of the case.
•    Fannie/Freddie two of the best businesses in the world.
•    Very safe business. Allows banks to sell/offload 30 yr mortgage which isn’t a good instrument for banks yet is very helpful to homeowners.
•    They di-worisified their business by buying fixed income securities (subprime, etc.). That is why Pershing was originally short before the US government recapitalized the company.
•    Became profitable in late FY11, when housing markets recovered. Over-reserved during the crisis. Heading back to their core mission/business. Bought them on that basis.
•    USA government took 100% of future profits of both entities, excuse was that they could never pay the government back. That was false, on their way to pay back the government.
•    Largest taking of a private asset by the government. Thankfully, it’s illegal. 5th amendment.
•    Judge Lamberth decision wasn’t about the takings claim which matters the most.
•    His best argument (for a hostile judge) is that shareholders can still trade the stock and make a profit. This could ultimately go to the Supreme Court.
•    Maybe Republicans want to get this solved and recapitalized. Very interesting risk reward, stock went from a dollar on the lost. Think it’s worth $40 - $50.
•    Reminds him of GGP when it was bankrupt.
•    “Always bet on America”
•    How do you size an opportunity on Fannie/Freddie? AGN hard to lose money but make 2x, make it bigger. Fannie could lose a lot but make a ton, hence for Pershing its 2% position.

•    Canadian Pacific (CP) next topic. Started buying September 2011. June 2012 gained control. One of the best industrial turnarounds.
•    Canadian Pacific approached CSX about a potential transaction, was rebuffed.
 •    Investment business – learned a lot over time. Started out buying cheap companies, now really emphasizes quality of business. Didn’t emphasize management at first, but Hunter at Canadian Pacific really shows the power of a strong management team.

•    Air Products (APD): Thinks the company could improve with the new CEO.

•    Howard Hughes (HHC) – brought on a strong management team that developed the assets and created a lot of value.

•    Platform Specialty Products (PAH) was a cash shell, great example of management. Raised $900MM, Pershing brought $300MM. Martin the CEO made an acquisition, the stock doubled. Bought a business in an auction. Starting to consolidate the specialty chemical industry.

•    On Executive Compensation: When you are going into these situations how do you think about the ideal CEO compensation structure? Bill’s response: S&P 500 co usually pays $10MM - $12MM, mix of cash options, restricted stock. Doesn’t align mgmt as they continually want lower priced options, especially if an acquisition occurs (more upside to them ~ not exact wording)
•    Sold a warrant of 4% of the outstanding shares with sale restriction at FMV to the CEO (did this for Howard Hughes).  Warrant went from $15MM to $250MM, 6 yr holding period, alignment and good upside for the CEO.
•    With Hunter who was 67, his incentives was also reputational. Gave him options upfront.

•    Thinking of Philanthropy: Always viewed as business as a way to make money in order to do good.  A lot of good is created by capitalism.
•    One philanthropy investment in Mexico giving iPads to store owners to run their stores better. Pepsi/ Nestle tracking data and the small store owners become more profitable through better management.
•    No cure – medical device to solve certain cancers. Prefers to invest in for profit to solve good as people are economically incentivized.
•    For things that there is no for profit solution, will do big grants (cultural, etc.). Never invest in a not for profit if there is a for profit competitor/solution.

For more from Ackman, he recently talked at the Great Investors' Best Ideas Dallas conference as well.

Be sure to check out the rest of the hedge fund presentations from Invest For Kids Chicago here.

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