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Ackman to headline as Sohn goes virtual

Legendary Wall Street investor Bill Ackman will headline the 2020 Sohn Hearts & Minds investment leaders conference this year in a major coup for the event that has raised more than $20 million dollars for medical research since its inception in 2016.
Jonathan Shapiro
AFR
 • 
Sep 15, 2020

Legendary Wall Street investorBill Ackman will headline the 2020 Sohn Hearts & Minds investment leaders conference this year in a major coup for the event that has raised more than $20 million dollars for medical research since its inception in 2016.

The announcement comes as the event, initially earmarked to be held in Tasmania, will switch to a virtual presentation on November 13. It will be branded SohnX Australia.

Mr Ackman follows investment luminaries such as Howard Marks of Oaktree and Bridgewater's Ray Dalio, who spoke at previous conferences.

The presence of Mr Ackman, who has appeared regularly at the New York Sohn event, is bound to generate controversy, given the 54-year-old is one of the most outspoken and divisive personalities in the hedge fund world.

Mr Ackman and his $US11.5 billion ($16 billion) hedge fund Pershing Square has taken several activist positions in companies such as Canadian Pacific and Procter & Gamble in addition to some short positions.

 

It hasn't always gone Mr Ackman's way, however.

In December 2012 he made a public short bet against multi-level marketing company Herbalife that led to confrontations with managers who took the other side of the trade.

He eventually exited the position in February 2018.

Mr Ackman was also a big investor in drug company Valeant, whose controversial practices were eventually exposed by a group of analysts and investors including Bronte Capital's John Hempton.

Stunning trade

Mr Ackman lost an estimated $4 billion on his investment in Valeant.

But he has fought back and delivered strong returns for investors. In 2019, he returned almost 60 per cent thanks to positions in Starbucks and Mexican food chain Chipotle.

And this year, Mr Ackman executed a stunning credit derivative trade that capitalised on the COVID-19 volatility, netting $US2.6 billion in just under a month.

That trade was revealed shortly after he warned that "hell was coming" as he outlined his concerns about the pandemic.

The derivative trade accounted for 37 per cent of the fund's 53.6 per cent return this calendar year.

In July, Mr Ackman raised $US4 billion via the initial public offering of a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC.

ThePershing Square Tontine Holdings SPAC has yet to disclose the type of companies it may target.

Mr Ackman has visited Australia before.

In 2014 he came here to market his Amsterdam-listed closed-end fund Pershing Square Holdings and is said to have raised significant funds from local high-net-worth investors.

Mr Ackman is also an admirer of Australia's superannuation system, which he noted had become the fourth-largest pension system in the world despite Australia being the 53rd most-populous nation.

He urged the United States to consider an approach similar to the "highly successful and popular Australian superannuation system, which has created savings of scale for growing generations of its citizens".

That echoed sentiments previously expressed by Oaktree's Mr Marks.

"I am impressed by the superannuation system and any civilisation that puts aside resources for the future," Mr Marks told The Australian FinancialReview.

A link to the Sohn Hearts & Minds 2020 Investment Leaders conference website can be found here.

This article was originally posted on The Australian Financial Review here.

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