Bill Ackman loses $400 million after Netflix shares tank

TechnologyBill Ackman loses $400 million after Netflix shares tank


Hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman has quickly given up on Netflix.

The head of Pershing Square Capital Management is $400 million poorer after selling the 3.1 million shares of Netflix that he bought for $1.1 billion in January.

Shares of Netflix nosedived by 35% on Wednesday after the streaming service announced that it had shed some 200,000 subscribers in the first quarter of 2022.

Investors on Wall Street have grown bearish on Netflix, which began Thursday trading at $226.19 per share — a 34% decline compared to five days ago.

At the time Ackman made his bet on Netflix, the company’s stock was selling at $375 per share — well below its all-time high of $690 per share in October of last year.

In a brief statement announcing the move, Ackman said proposed business model changes, including incorporating advertising and going after non-paying customers, made sense but would make the company too unpredictable in the short term.

“While Netflix’s business is fundamentally simple to understand, in light of recent events, we have lost confidence in our ability to predict the company’s future prospects with a sufficient degree of certainty,” he wrote in a note to Pershing shareholders.

Ackman bought more than 3 million shares of Netflix in January for $1.1 billion.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

Pershing Square, which now invests $21.5 billion, buys shares in only about a dozen companies at a time and needs a “high degree of predictability” in its portfolio companies, Ackman said.

Rather than wait around for things to improve at Netflix, Ackman locked in losses that are calculated to be more than $400 million, people familiar with the portfolio told Reuters.

After the sale, Pershing Square’s portfolios are off roughly two percent for the year, Ackman, whose net worth is valued at $3.2 billion, said.

In late January, Ackman became one of the Netflix’s 20 largest shareholders with his acquisition of 3.1 million shares.

“I have long admired [CEO] Reed Hastings and the remarkable company he and his team have built,” Ackman tweeted on Jan. 26.

Just three months ago, Ackman praised Reed Hastings, the Netflix CEO, for his stewardship of the company.
Just three months ago, Ackman praised Reed Hastings, the Netflix CEO, for his stewardship of the company.
Getty Images for NETFLIX

“We are delighted that the market has presented us with this opportunity.”

In a separate letter to investors, Ackman declared that Pershing was “all in on streaming as we love the business models, the industry contexts, and the management teams…”

Netflix said it had lost 200,000 subscribers in its first quarter, falling well short of its modest predictions that it would add 2.5 million subscribers.

Its decision in early March to suspend service in Russia after it invaded Ukraine resulted in the loss of 700,000 members.

Profitable hedges helped Pershing Square survive the early days of the pandemic in 2020 and then again in recent months as interest rates began to rise.

Hastings' company has seen its stock price fall by more than 35% in just two days.
Hastings’ company has seen its stock price fall by more than 35% in just two days.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

The last three years have been among the best in the hedge fund’s lifetime, including a 70.2% gain in 2020.

But Ackman also acknowledged in his statement on Wednesday that he had learned from leaner times when his fund backed Valeant Pharmaceuticals, a disastrous bet that cost the hedge fund billions in losses.

“One of our learnings from past mistakes is to act promptly when we discover new information about an investment that is inconsistent with our original thesis. That is why we did so here,” he wrote.

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