Wednesday 25 March 2020 6:46 pm

US investor Bill Ackman unwinds hedges and bets on stock market

US hedge fund manager Bill Ackman said today that he has cashed in $2.6bn in credit market hedges and reinvested the money in the stock market after turning “increasingly positive” on equity markets.

Ackman’s Pershing Square Capital Management took out the hedges – credit protection on investment grade and high yield credit indices – at the start of March as panic caused by coronavirus began hitting markets globally.

Read more: US stocks choppy as Wall Street weighs huge coronavirus stimulus

In a letter to investors filed by his listed fund Pershing Square Holdings today, Ackman said subsequent market falls combined with steps taken by US state governments to limit the spread of the disease and federal and Treasury monetary support, had made him more positive on the outlook.

In anticipation of a $2 trillion (£1.7 trillion) economic rescue package – signed by US politicians on Tuesday – Wall Street snapped back from three-year lows on Tuesday to post its biggest one-day gain since 1933.

“We became increasingly positive on equity and credit markets last week, and began the process of unwinding our hedges and redeploying our capital in companies we love at bargain prices that are built to withstand this crisis, and which we believe will flourish long term,” Ackman said.

Ackman said Pershing Square completed its exit from the hedges on 23 March, generating proceeds of $2.6bn, and had reinvested most of the money in existing holdings Agilent, Berkshire Hathaway, Hilton, Restaurant Brands and Lowe’s.

The fund also bought into several new holdings, including Starbucks, which it had previously exited in January. After the investments, the fund had maintained a cash position of about 17 per cent of portfolio, he said.

Read more: FTSE 100 rises on $2 trillion US coronavirus stimulus

However, in a note of caution, Ackman said he expected markets and the firm’s performance to remain volatile, throwing up opportunities that could lead them to sell out of recently bought holdings or even go back on the defensive.

“We may also choose to reestablish similar or different forms of hedges or raise more cash based on developments with the coronavirus and other market factors. In other words, we are more likely to have higher portfolio turnover in this environment.”

Ackman also reiterated his call – flagged in a tweet to US President Donald Trump last week – to close the whole country for 30 days, something he expected to happen soon.

“You don’t need to be a virologist, immunologist, or epidemiologist to understand why a 30-day nationwide lockdown makes sense,” he wrote, adding it was crucial to help the healthcare system catch up and prevent deeper economic damage.

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