Longtime hedge fund manager Bill Ackman on Wednesday advised President Donald Trump to shut down the U.S. for one month in an effort to contain the novel coronavirus and said financial markets would rally in response to such decisive action.
Ackman, who founded Pershing Square Capital Management, called on the president to both close the nation's borders as well as offer Americans a one-month rent, interest and tax holiday to help offset an expected deceleration in U.S. GDP growth.
"Mr. President, the only answer is to shut down the country for the next 30 days and close the borders. Tell all Americans that you are putting us on an extended Spring Break at home with family," Ackman wrote on Twitter.
"The moment you send everyone home for Spring Break and close the borders, the infection rate will plummet, the stock market will soar, and the clouds will lift," he added.
Ackman later in the day spoke to CNBC's Scott Wapner and detailed his thoughts further.
"Beginning in late January I was getting increasingly bearish and I woke up with a nightmare. And my nightmare was you have this virus that replicates and infects incredibly rapidly," he said.
Ackman revealed he went into lockdown almost a month ago to save the life of his father, who is immuno-compromised.
"You look at the beaches at Fort Lauderdale: Unfortunately, they're packed with 18-to-22-year-olds having the time of their lives, spreading the virus," he said.
"They're probably OK, most of them ... but when they go home to their parents, or they go home to their loved one, or to their friend who just had breast cancer surgery and is immune-compromised: They're going to kill that person," Ackman said.
"Everyone feels, you know, '99% chance I'll be OK!'" he continued. "But it's not you: It's the person you give it to. I am not going to kill my father, OK?"
He also said he urged the companies he's invested in to halt their buyback programs and extend their credit lines because "hell is coming."
His tweets warned that further delays to such a "Spring Break" hiatus would continue to have disastrous costs to human life and pressed Trump to "please send everyone home now."
"No one defaults, no one forecloses. A 30-day rent, interest and tax holiday for all," he added. "The shutdown is inevitable as it is already happening, but not in a controlled fashion which is extending the economic pain and amplifying the spread of the virus."
Confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. are now at 6,496 with 114 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, and countries around the world are locking down their borders. Efforts to contain the virus have varied by country with some, like Canada, closing their borders to noncitizens except Americans.
The Trump administration is working on a $1 trillion stimulus package to combat the impact of the virus.
Ackman, famous on Wall Street for his big bets and proxy campaigns, has in recent years generated sizable returns for Pershing investors with smart bets on stocks like Chipotle and Starbucks. Last year, in particular, was a strong year for the fund with total shareholder returns of more than 50%.
But Ackman's investing prowess also helped him get ahead of the market's historic plunge this month. He told investors in early March that he'd taken steps to shore up his investment portfolio to protect against the economic impact of the coronavirus.
He said in a letter viewed by CNBC that he put more money toward hedged bets with unusually limited risk of loss thanks to expectations that efforts to contain the coronavirus will dampen growth around the globe.
"During the past ten days, we have taken steps to protect the portfolio from downward market volatility. We have done so because we believe that efforts to contain the coronavirus are likely to have a substantial negative impact on the U.S. and global economies, and on equity and credit markets," Ackman wrote at the time.
The S&P 500 is down at least 15% since Ackman moved more money toward the hedged bets. Pershing had about $8.6 billion in assets under management as of 2019.
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