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Ackman's Pershing Square has double-digit gains on year

Bill Ackman
Peter Foley | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Bill Ackman

Hedge fund manager William Ackman posted fresh gains in November even as his big short position on Herbalife lost more money, leaving his fund with double-digit returns for the year.

Ackman's flagship Pershing Square fund earned 1.4 percent after fees last month, leaving the $12 billion fund up 10 percent for the year to date, according to an investor update sent to clients and seen by Reuters.

The gains were nowhere near as strong as October's blowout when Pershing Square climbed 7.9 percent. Ackman's returns last month also lagged the Standard & Poor's 500 index, which gained 2.8 percent.

(Read more: Ackman vs. Herbalife)

Still the billionaire investor's bets on companies like Canadian Pacific Railway, which advanced in November, offset the additional losses sustained when Herbalife, which Ackman is betting will eventually fail, gained 7.5 percent last month. At the end of November, Ackman made another public presentation on Herbalife but the stock price went up, not down, after he spoke.

As an activist investor, Ackman makes big bets on a handful of companies, often trying to change management or corporate governance. In his client updates, he does not describe what helped or hurt performance during the month, but they are nonetheless closely watched in the investment world.

The update said his fund now has 11 long positions and two short positions. One of those is Herbalife but the other has not been disclosed, sparking plenty of speculation about what it might be. A spokeswoman for Ackman declined to comment.

(Read more: New Herbalife info?)

Most hedge fund managers are still putting together their November numbers and Ackman is often among the first to report the information, which is private, to clients.

But some of his rivals reported earlier and fared better.

David Einhorn, whose $10 billion Greenlight Capital, got off to a lackluster start this year, gained 4.7 percent last month as Apple, one of his big holdings, prospered. For the year, he is up 19.1 percent for the year, an investor said.

(Read more: Pershing Square sells JCP stake)

Daniel Loeb's $14 billion Third Point's flagship fund gained 2.7 percent and is up 23.2 percent for the year.

Barry Rosenstein's Jana Partners rose 1 percent in November and is up 16.6 percent for the year.

All four fund managers rely on activist strategies up to a point. Loeb is currently pressuring auction house Sotheby's for change, while Einhorn has pushed Apple to return cash to investors. Activism is one of the best-performing strategies this year and investors have been allocating more money to it.

(Read more: Bill Ackman, Carl Icahn hurl accusations, insults)

The four funds, among the best-known in the industry, are outpacing the average hedge fund, which rose 6.13 percent through the end of November, data from Hedge Fund Research show.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index has gained 26 percent this year.

Ackman's late-year turnaround comes after suffering a roughly $500 million loss on J.C. Penney, a position he exited in August. Ackman has estimated his losses from Herbalife in the hundreds of millions of dollars.

—By Reuters.