The most interesting thing ever to happen on a business TV network happened today, when a CNBC interview with hedge-fund investor Bill Ackman was interrupted by a call-in from Ackman’s mortal enemy — activist investor Carl Icahn.
The plutocrats’ beef was nominally about Herbalife, a nutrient supplement company that Ackman has "shorted" (bet against) and accused of being an illegal pyramid scheme, and that Icahn has (reportedly) taken the opposite position on. But as with all good Wall Street feuds, the Ackman/Icahn rumble quickly devolved into an ad hominem shouting match, with Ackman calling Icahn a bully, and Icahn saying "bullshit" twice on live TV and comparing Ackman to a "little Jewish boy crying." (The full video is here.)
Ackman and Icahn have been sworn enemies for years, since a 2004 deal over a real-estate company that resulted in lawsuits and threats. (It’s a long story; this 2011 Times article gives fairly good background.) The beef has gotten so bad that the two reportedly refuse to be seated near each other at rich-person cafeteria Marea. And most recently, the two have clashed over Herbalife.
If you’re just catching up on the Herbalife saga, here’s a brief overview of what’s happening. Basically, Ackman believes the company is a fraud, and wagered $1 billion on a short position late last year, betting that the stock would fall. Icahn, and another rich dude with a hedge fund, Dan Loeb, think Ackman is full of it, and bet against him. (We know that Loeb has; Icahn almost certainly has but won’t say so.)
Ackman and Icahn’s respective investment theories are arcane and full of legal jargon and regulator-bait. But it really doesn’t matter — the feud is no longer about Herbalife at all. Now it’s just a schoolyard pissing contest, full of sound and fury, maybe signifying nothing. (Since Herbalife’s stock is about where it was before Ackman took aim.)
Business Insider has the best-of compilation from today’s CNBC fight. (It’s best to read all of Icahn’s quotes with a thick Queens accent — “I’ve really sort of had it with ‘dis guy Ackman,” etc.) But the highlight was the clip below, wherein Icahn at once violated the FCC’s cursing-on-live-TV rules and displayed a formidable ability to imitate Donald Trump in temperament and tone. The scandalized “OHHH” from the traders reacting a few seconds late to Icahn’s outburst is really what makes it.