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Bill Ackman: How Herbalife is like Bernie Madoff

Activist investor Bill Ackman renewed his attack on Herbalife during a CNBC interview Wednesday, likening the nutrition and weight management company to Bernie Madoff.

"Herbalife, we're doing God's work," he added.

"When you shine sunlight on Madoff it makes it difficult for Madoff to find victims. The same thing is happening at Herbalife," the founder of the $18 billion Pershing Square Capital Management hedge fund said on "Squawk Box" as the show debuted in its new home in New York City.

Ackman first shorted Herbalife on May 1, 2012. When he went public with his position in December 2012, the hedge fund manager called the company a "pyramid scheme" and said his position was worth $1 billion. The company has strongly denied Ackman's charges ever since.

Giving an indication on where his Herbalife trade stands now, Ackman said: "We will make more than we would have made had it just straight gone to zero initially. We did increase the position earlier this [past] year."

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Herbalife stock has tanked more than 20 percent in the past five trading sessions—almost 8 percent of that decline on Tuesday alone. That's on top of a 50 percent loss for all of 2014.

The stock has been moving lower recently, Ackman said, because the company is going to miss earnings and will have to redo its guidance. He said there's a massive seller in the market and that can be seen by looking at short-term option trading.

Ackman also claimed: "You have a flight of top [Herbalife] distributors, senior employees from around the world, contacting us, contacting the government, sharing information."

For Herbalife's part, the company released a statement to CNBC: "Bill Ackman is entirely predictable—with his Herbalife put options expiring next week, he is off on yet another tirade of misrepresentations, the sole purpose of which is to drive down our share price. The facts about our business are inconvenient for Mr. Ackman, and he clearly has no interest in learning them, as evidenced by his team's last-minute cancellation of a meeting last month that he requested."

Activist investor Carl Icahn, who famously had a war of words with Ackman on CNBC in 2013, took the other side of Herbalife trade and has been feeling the heat. The two hugged it out and put aside their past differences at this year's CNBC-Institutional Investor Delivering Alpha Conference.

Billionaire George Soros is also hurting on Herbalife's slide, and the chief architect of Soros Fund Management's bullish bet on the company has quietly departed the investment shop. Soros has been cutting his Herbalife stake.

Ackman on activist investing

Separately, Ackman—who joined Valeant in April in the pharmaceutical company's pursuit of Allergan—said Wednesday Valeant could have had the Botox maker if it had raised its bid.

He added, however, that Actavis—which ultimately agreed to acquire Allergan in a deal valued at $66 billion—will become a greater company with the addition. "It's going to become an incredibly dominate, fast-growing, most efficient, R&D investing company."

Ackman's bet on Allergan netted about $2.2 billion—a big winner for Pershing whose main fund returned 40 percent in 2014, nearly four times last year's gain in the S&P 500.

As an activist investor, he said he only makes investments that are good for his investors and good for America. "The governor on activism is the shareholder base. And as a result, you're not going to see lots of businesses be destroyed, unless all of a sudden index funds try to decide to liquidate companies."

"Activism can be good or bad," he admitted. "But the shareholders are the judge. The activists can't force it to happen."

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Ackman on JC Penney

On trying to turnaround J.C. Penney, which was a spectacular failure for Ackman, he said he invested in the retailer when it was a dying company and he argued it's "still a dying company."

"I want J.C. Penney to be sucessful. I just think they are in a very, very tough spot in the market," he continued. "They went back to their old [coupon] model ... and the consumer has become smarter."

Ackman said he thought at the time that bringing in Ron Johnson, Apple's then-retailing wiz, in 2011 to be CEO of Penney was a good idea that turned out poorly. Johnson has since left the company.

Late Tuesday, J.C. Penney said same-store sales rose 3.7 percent in November and December—offering a glimpse into what's expected to be the best holiday season for retailers since 2011.

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