By Svea Herbst-Bayliss
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Soros Fund Management, one of the hedge funds industry's most closely watched investors, exited its bet on Herbalife (HLF.N), the nutrition company that rival investor William Ackman has called a fraud.
Soros, which has been betting on Herbalife for roughly two years, said in a regulatory filing that it liquidated its position by selling nearly 2 million shares during the third quarter. Soros oversees the private fortune of investor and philanthropist George Soros and his family.
While Soros himself is no longer making investment calls, the firm's involvement in Herbalife nonetheless drew battle lines between the hedge fund industry's elder statesmen and one of its new stars.
Soros and Carl Icahn supported the nutrition and weight loss company while Ackman has accused Herbalife of running a pyramid scheme in which members are paid more for recruiting new members than for selling the product. Herbalife denies the allegations.
Nearly a year ago, during the fourth quarter of 2014, Soros added to its Herbalife position, owning 3.4 million shares at the end of December. Fund managers are required tell the government what they owned 45 days after the end of the quarter.
For Soros and other holders the bet on Herbalife has likely been a profitable one with the shares having climbed 43 percent in the last 52 weeks alone.
Balyasny Asset Management, Angelo Gordon & Company and Partner Fund Management have also exited their positions. AHL Partners and Grantham, Mayo, Van Otterloo & Company also exited their positions, regulatory filings show.
Although the filings are backward looking and do not show what funds own at this point, they are still widely watched as the battle over the future of Herbalife heats up.
Ackman, who announced a $1 billion short position against the company nearly three years ago and promised to take his bet "to the end of the earth," has lost money on this bet again this year as the stock has climbed 46.5 percent since January. Ackman's fund has lost more than 20 percent this year after having gained 40 percent last year.
To be sure Herbalife had supporters as well and during the third quarter as funds including AJO, Serengeti Asset Management and Route One Investment Company added to their positions.
Icahn kept his position steady at 17 million shares.
(Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)