Friday afternoon Bill Ackman, who founded the $12 billion Pershing Square hedge fund, and investing legend Carl Icahn engaged in on-air vulgarity-laced shouting match BusinessInsider.com quickly dubbed The Greatest Moment in Financial History.
The brawl quickly degenerated into a debate over who wanted to be friends with whom, old lawsuits between the two, and Icahn's deeply weird comparison between Ackman and bullied school kids in Queens.
Lost in the debate was what got the whole thing started in the first place. In brief, Bill Ackman has a 20 million share short position in shares of Herbalife (HLF). Icahn may or may not own shares of HLF but he absolutely claims to object to Ackman being a "liar" who immorally hyped his short stake to "kill the stock" of HLF in order to improve Pershing Square's 2012 results.
All of which is great theater. For investors the question is whether or not Herbalife is a real business, and thus a candidate for your investment dollars, or a thinly veiled Ponzi scheme as Ackman claims. To help get to the answer Breakout welcomed Carol Roth former investment banker and author of the best selling book "The Entrepreneur Equation."
In the attached video Roth takes the side of HLF, arguing that Ackman and other critics simply don't understand the business model of what are called Multi-level Marketing programs (MLM). "What they're selling in part is not only product but also entrepreneurship," she says. "Unfortunately entrepreneurs fail at a very high rate."
A high failure rate isn't the same thing as being illegal, she's quick to add. Roth made a public, televised bet on HLF stock because, flawed though it is, she thinks Ackman's basic thesis is wrong. She's long both HLF and fellow MLM Nuskin (NUS) because she regards them as inexpensive, legitimate business with stable fundamentals and international exposure.
As for the SEC investigation of HLF, Roth says bring it on. "Yes they may have to change their disclosures or accounting methodology or reporting but I don't think they're going to find out this is an illegitimate business model."
If she's right about the investigation, HLF will go back to trading on fundamentals and Ackman's thesis will be obliterated. Herbalife users may not actually lose weight but the bulls will probably be getting fat.
[Note: Jeff Macke owns shares of HLF]