Carl Icahn already owns nearly 20% of Herbalife stock, and he’s thinking about buying a lot more—if not all of it.
The billionaire investor of Icahn Enterprises (IEP) has applied to the Federal Trade Commission for the right to purchase up to 50% of Herbalife (HLF) shares, Icahn said Tuesday at the CNBC Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha conference. And rather than stop at just half, the activist investor said he’s also considered making a bid to acquire the whole company.
“Would I do an offer? I would consider it,” Icahn said. “It’s something that I’ve thought about.”
Herbalife stock rose nearly 3% in after-hours trading, after falling about as much during the regular market session Tuesday. Earlier this month, Icahn Enterprises bought auto-parts manufacturer Federal Mogul, a company, like Herbalife, that Icahn already had a significant stake in.
Icahn had already received permission to buy as much as 35% of Herbalife stock in July, which he announced the same day the nutrition products company reached a controversial settlement with the FTC that imposed restrictions on its business model but stopped short of calling it a pyramid scheme.
Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who has been betting against Herbalife for the last four years and has called the company a pyramid scheme, has feuded with Icahn over their opposing bets. Ackman had even tried to call Icahn’s bluff about taking a 35% stake in Herbalife, accusing his rival of stock manipulation in the process. “I don’t think Carl Icahn intends to acquire more Herbalife stock or go up to 35%,” Ackman said in July. “I think this is part, frankly, of the manipulation.”
In a wide-ranging interview at the conference, Icahn said he “take[s] a little affront, umbrage,” to Ackman’s accusations, and genuinely believes in Herbalife’s business model. “They make good products,” he said, adding that he personally does not enjoy its weight-loss shakes because they gave him “a lot of gas.”
And even if Icahn himself doesn’t end up making a play for Herbalife, there could still be other prospective buyers. “I think there are other people that might,” he said. “I think Herbalife is certainly a candidate to go private.”
A buyout scenario might be good for the company for a number of reasons, Icahn continued. “I think Herbalife is a lot better off private, getting away from this type of Ackman criticism. He’s out there driving everyone crazy.”
Of course, a takeover offer for Herbalife would be one of the worst possible outcomes for Ackman, as it would likely send the company’s stock price through the roof, adding to his losses.
“I think Ackman is smart, but I think in this case it’s absurd to have a major short position,” Icahn said at the conference.
Though he complimented Ackman’s intelligence on several occasions and said he did not believe they were still actively fighting, Icahn denied giving the hedge fund manager a hug at the same conference two years earlier. “I think I tripped on the steps,” Icahn retorted.