Investor capitalizes on coronavirus panic, turns $27M into $2.6B

Bill Ackman is the founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management and a pretty smart guy.  The product of Harvard's Business School shrewdly turned an impressive profit on a $27M in investment into a $2.6B profit during the coronavirus pandemic by purchasing "credit default swaps" (think of it as catastrophic insurance for corporate debt) because he anticipated the effect of the virus on business in early March.  While many Democrats might be tempted to argue that Ackman's approximately 10,000-percent profit was excessive and greedy, my own opinion is that he merely took advantage of our capitalist economic system.  In essence, Ackman gambled the $27 million on his anticipation that things that were already getting bad were about to get a lot worse.  Being prescient and financially astute is not a crime.   

However, Bill Ackman might be a little too smart for his own good.  Why?  On March 18, while President Trump was giving a press conference, Ackman went on the air at CNBC and literally warned that "hell is coming" to the economy, fueling panic among investors.  He said Boeing airplane-manufacturers would be put out of business unless a massive stimulus bill bailed them out.  Ackman specifically predicted that the stock price of Hilton hotels could drop to zero, mentioning the company by name.  The problem is, while Ackman is on the air driving down the price of Hilton hotel stock, what is he also doing?  Buying Hilton hotel stock at bargain basement prices.

Apparently, I'm not the only one troubled by the implications of Ackman turning a tidy profit after yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, although the hedge fund manager claims he profited from only the credit default swaps, not any stock purchases he's made since.  It makes sense that he hasn't made that money yet because he's still holding the stock that he bought dirt cheap.  The profit won't get realized until he sells that stock.  However, his potential profits from buying Starbucks, Lowes, Hilton, Agilent Technologies, and Berkshire Hathaway are considerable, even astronomical.

Normally, one might expect that the media, led by liberal Democrats such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, would be screaming for the blood of Bill Ackman, but Bill Ackman certainly isn't stupid.  No one turns $27 million into $2.6 billion while being stupid. As George Soros, Tom Steyer, Mike Bloomberg, Eric Schmidt, and a number of other billionaires have done, he bought insurance against being pursued for any criminal liability for shady business practices through his political contributions to key Democrat politicians and Democratic Party fundraising organizations.

If you take a look at Ackman's political donations, you'll note that they are almost exclusively to Democrats: he's a Friend of Chuck Schumer and also gave money to ActBlue.  Ackman gave money to Cory Booker, Jon Tester, Robert Menendez, and Jerry Nadler.  His donations over the past four elections are skewed at least 90 percent to Democrats.  The other 10 percent was given mostly to RINOs such as Mitt Romney and John McCain.  There might have been one donation to a real Republican, but I don't know much about Steve Stivers except that he opposed Trump on the issue of immigration.

Here's the sad truth: if the CEO of Hilton hotels had tried to do what Ackman has done, he'd have been raked over the coals and probably prosecuted for insider trading.  Remember that   

Senators Burr, Feinstein, and Loeffler face ethics charges for dumping stock after a briefing by the coronavirus task force.  Yet Ackman can apparently help incite an economic meltdown by saying, "Hell is coming!" on national television, and not only did he avoid facing any consequences, but he got handsomely rewarded for his incendiary rhetoric.

If what Ackman did on CNBC on March 18 wasn't illegal, it certainly ought to be.

John Leonard is a freelance writer and most recently editor of the Rootstock series of epic fantasy novels. You may find him on Facebook or contact him through his website at

If you experience technical problems, please write to