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Bill Ackman recommends Howard Hughes Corp. at Sohn

Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman's new investment idea Monday wasn't very new at all: a bullish pitch for Howard Hughes Corp.

The comments from the founder of Pershing Square Capital Management came from the Sohn Investment Conference in New York. His comments immediately sent shares higher, with the stock trading up about 3.7 percent after he spoke.

"We never talked publicly about the company. The question is, why are we talking about it now?" he said. "The answer is, I think this is one of the most attractive times in the history of the company to invest."

William Ackman speaking at the 22nd Annual Sohn Investment Conference on May 8, 2017.
Heidi Gutman | CNBC
William Ackman speaking at the 22nd Annual Sohn Investment Conference on May 8, 2017.

The notion that he never talked about HHC before is not entirely accurate; he did discuss the position at the Harbor Investment Conference in 2015, saying that Pershing Square would keep its stake in the company.

The planned community development company originated in 2010 and has been at work putting up communities in various locations, Hawaii in particular. The company also has developments at the South Street Seaport in New York and in Houston, Las Vegas and Maryland.

Ackman touted the company's management as well as the "location, location, location" benefits of its various properties.

Ackman is the largest shareholder in the company and its chairman. His Pershing Square is the largest stakeholders with about a 13 percent interest in ownership, and a 26 percent take including swaps, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Though Ackman's been involved with the spreading the company out, his fund has made little mention of HHC since its inception. That's going to change.

"We kept the company kind of as a secret," he said, adding that there will be an investor day "very soon."

Ackman compared the Hughs company to developer Donald Bren's Irvine Ranch.

Pershing had a good month in April, posting a 4.6 percent gain. The fund, however, is still trailing the market this year, up just 1.9 percent through the end of April for 2017, according to company materials. Pershing lost more than 10 percent last year and posted a nearly 17 percent loss in 2015.

More from the Sohn Conference:
Activist investor Keith Meister recommends Centurylink at Sohn

--with reporting by Max Meyers

Clarification: This version updates the ownership stake for Pershing in HHC.

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