WHEN: Today, Thursday, September 28
WHERE: CNBC Delivering Alpha conference
Following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC interview with Pershing Square Capital Management CEO Bill Ackman and CNBC’s Scott Wapner live during the CNBC Delivering Alpha conference today, Thursday, September 28th.
Mandatory credit: CNBC Delivering Alpha conference.
Realtime Transcription by www.RealtimeTranscription.com.
TYLER MATHISEN: Okay. I can’t think of a better way to bring this proceeding across the finish line than with our next guest. He is one of the most provocative and interesting investors in the country. His motto is in investing to make a bold call that nobody else believes in. That is what he’s done time and time again, usually to great effect.
Farmer, retail, railroads, diet supplements, restaurants, music streaming. He shorts, he goes long, way long. He usually does it very successfully. Stocks, bonds, it doesn’t matter. He is Bill Ackman. Please welcome Bill Ackman to the stage, and welcome back, Scott Wapner.
SCOTT WAPNER: All right. The closer. It’s been a minute since we were up here together. Carl is not going to come out. No hugs, we’re good. Okay?
I do want to start, though, with news. That I think is news. A reported secret meeting that you had recently, you and a bunch of other people with Zelenskyy of Ukraine within the last few weeks, it was said to have happened. What happened in that room?
BILL ACKMAN: I don’t know that it was so secret. But basically I think Zelenskyy wanted to meet people from the business community. There were about ten of us there. It was organized by J.P. Morgan. This is a pretty important person. I think when we look back in time in our history, he played a very important role in the last couple years. And it was sort of an opportunity to meet him firsthand. I think his goal here I think was to meet people who could be potential investors in the country, people who could bring business to the country and I think what he really had to say was don’t wait until after the war. You can really help us by bringing business to our country now.
SCOTT WAPNER: Also looking for people to help rebuild after the war?
BILL ACKMAN: Look, I’m very bullish on Ukraine post-war. I think most Americans wouldn’t be able to identify Ukraine on the map circa two years ago. And today I think people know how many people live there. They know a lot about the population. I think they feel a moral obligation to help. And I think they’ll be a very powerful big business case for the rebuilding of the country.
SCOTT WAPNER: Are you going to commit personally that you’ll give money towards the rebuild, either through you personally or the foundation?
BILL ACKMAN: So I’ve invested about $24 million in Ukraine philanthropically during the war.
SCOTT WAPNER: You already have?
BILL ACKMAN: Already have. Some of that was a philanthropic investment in a company called Zipline, which is a really interesting startup. It’s well beyond a startup today. They apparently raised $400 million on a $4 billion valuation recently. But our philanthropic support was to get them to launch in Ukraine.
Basically it’s a drone company that ships medical supplies principally in Africa, places where there isn’t good road infrastructure and need to get blood from one hospital to another, medical supplies, or things like that. They are in the process of launching in Ukraine because of course the infrastructure of the country is not in a great place, and they have lots of need for blood in the right places, unfortunately.
SCOTT WAPNER: That was just the start. It sounds to more investment from you?
BILL ACKMAN: It wasn’t really — it was not an investment I was looking for an economic return. It was an investment to — it was not in their business plan to launch in Ukraine, and so I actually got a call from Mike Moritz of Sequoia saying, look, we’re looking for philanthropic support to bring Zipline to Ukraine. Actually, I had the opportunity to meet the head of logistics for the war at this meeting with Zelenskyy and I connected him with the CEO of Zipline because, you know, even in a place like Ukraine there’s a bureaucracy that you need to get through in order to — if you think about launching drones around Ukraine right now, you have to have a lot of confidence that those drones are good drones as opposed to bad ones.
SCOTT WAPNER: That was good segue to get to the markets because just within the last week Jamie Dimon said that geopolitics remain the market’s biggest risk. Do you agree?
BILL ACKMAN: I don’t know. Maybe in the very short term that’s true. But I think — yeah, it’s sort of the unknown. It’s the ultimate sort of Black Swan type risk. Right? What are you worried about? You worry about nuclear war. You worry about an obligation to defend Taiwan. You worry about, you know, war between the U.S. and — we’ve gone from a period of couple decades of put aside terrorism, which you can’t really put aside. But we really haven’t had war between major powers, you know, two countries in Europe in 80 years. And so this is not a bright time in our history. But we had a period of time where I think Berlin Wall came down and we thought about peace.
SCOTT WAPNER: So it’s a different environment to be investing in for a number of reasons which we’ll get to. How would you describe what your positioning is today?
BILL ACKMAN: So similar to what it’s been historically, is we own actually really eight amazing companies. I’m sure you know most of them. We have a tiny little investment in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which I think together represent a little over 1% of the portfolio, but the rest of the —
And those are really options on an ultimate kind of government taking them out of conservatorship. The balance of the portfolio, great businesses we think do well in really any economic, political, or macro environment.
And then we opportunistically hedge risks. The two risks we’ve been concerned about really over the last, you know, year and a half, energy prices, and kind of the longer part of the curve, the Treasury curve becoming — the rates moving up.
SCOTT WAPNER: Betting on the long end of the curve, rates continuing to go up?
BILL ACKMAN: Yes.
SCOTT WAPNER: You nailed that. And you’ve been making that —
BILL ACKMAN: Well, nailed it would be we put this on, like, 18 months ago. We actually made almost 3 billion on two-year rates. We’ve made a relatively modest profit here. So nailed it, we would have made more.
SCOTT WAPNER: Are you still —
BILL ACKMAN: I sort of was quiet about it for a while and then sort of made my point a couple months ago and rates have moved a lot since.
SCOTT WAPNER: Is it still on, that bet?
BILL ACKMAN: It is.
SCOTT WAPNER: How long will it be?
BILL ACKMAN: Until we’re right or wrong.
SCOTT WAPNER: Are you still figuring that rates, at the long end, the 30-year, for example, or however on the long end, are still going to go higher?
BILL ACKMAN: Yes. Look, I think there’s — even in the relative short term, there are a number of reasons why rates can move a lot. Among them, we have a government shutdown. We’re going into what looks like a highly probable government shutdown. We’re going to have a data shutdown, right?
All these little government agencies that put out data that the Federal Reserve relies on to decide whether to, you know, adjust interest rates, they’re going to lose access to that data, so we’re going to have a sort of kind of dark period.
We have probably the worst technical environment in our lifetimes for supply of bonds versus buyer of bonds. We have China selling. We have Russia, to the extent they own any U.S. securities, more selling. We have Saudi Arabia selling.
And, you know, we have an economy that is still strong, and inflation, you know, 3.5, 4%, persistent; but, you know, our view is basically you’re not being paid enough to enter into a 30-year contract with the U.S. government at a fixed price. You know, 4.7, or wherever it is now, doesn’t make sense in a world where we think structural inflation is north of 3% for the very long term.
We went through this very unusual period with extremely low interest rates, you know, where everything just got cheaper. And, you know, since the financial crisis, you know, the effort of the Federal Reserve was to make sure we didn’t have deflation. The aspirational goal was to get to 2% inflation, and then the pandemic and, you know, trillions of fiscal stimulus, the psychological stimulus of being free to roam after being locked up, and all of these factors coming at once kind of lit inflation, and we still have this massive deficit spending, we still have infrastructure spending. You know, the government is selling literally hundreds of billions of dollars of securities, bills, and at some point they’re going to have to sell more and more of the longer instruments.
I mean, if you look at the balance sheet of the Federal Reserve, it’s an imprudent balance sheet. You know, if you think about the United States, right, if you were — if this were like a business, you wouldn’t have so much short-term, you wouldn’t have a third or more of your debt repricing within the next year. So it’s not been managed.
I think, actually, Steve Mnuchin did a good job as Treasury secretary. The one thing he missed is he should have issued a lot of 30- or 50- or 100-year paper at crazy low interest rates, and that’s going to be a burden.
SCOTT WAPNER: I’m hearing a lot from investors these days. Ken Griffin was on our network within the last week or so. I just had a conversation with Rick Rieder of BlackRock. Those who are talking about the possibility of much higher real rates for much longer than people think, for the very reasons that you’re talking about. The issuance is so massive, and where are the buyers going to come from? And the result of that is going to be higher real yields.
BILL ACKMAN: I don’t know about much higher real rates. I think, you know, again, my view is inflation — or kind of the house view is inflation is going to be persistently higher.
SCOTT WAPNER: You are the house.
BILL ACKMAN: I guess I control the door on the way in and out, I guess. But, you know, our view is really that we’re in a different world. And, you know, the world sort of changes gradually, and you have a generation of people who are used to rates — you know, 4 sounding like a high interest rate, and it’s —
You know, on a historical basis, it’s an extremely low rate of interest. So I would not be shocked to see 30-year rates well into the — through the 5 barrier. And you can see the 10-year approach 5.
SCOTT WAPNER: Jamie Dimon —
BILL ACKMAN: And that can happen in a very short term, like literally weeks. It’s a huge move in the last number of weeks, and I think a lot of that is investors kind of rethinking —
You know, what’s interesting about the 30-year Treasury is people reflexively buy it whenever they — you know, because they’ve made money doing it in advance of recession. But it’s really not an instrument you should use to speculate on the short-term economy. It’s a fixed price contract with the U.S. government for 30 years and reflects really structural forces. And I think the structural forces have changed.
SCOTT WAPNER: You must be negative the equity market.
BILL ACKMAN: No.
SCOTT WAPNER: How could you have a positive view of stocks if you think that that’s the outcome for bonds?
BILL ACKMAN: Because if you own high-quality — the key is owning businesses that have pricing power. Businesses that can do well in a world of — and by the way, many businesses can do well in a world of 3% inflation. The key is it’s hard to manage a business in a world where inflation is volatile, where inflation is 8% or, you know, the kind of crazy numbers. But many, many businesses can do very well in a world of 3% inflation.
And the kind of companies we own, they’re very much like royalties. So we own Universal Music, which is a royalty on listening to music. If there’s music playing out there, Universal is getting a fraction of a penny for every song, you know, that’s being streamed. Google. Google is a royalty, if you will, on people advertising on the web, right? Or on YouTube. Restaurant brands, there is a royalty on people eating at Burger King or any of their various concepts.
Hilton is a — I continue, royalty on people staying in hotels and eating and drinking and going to events.
The beauty of these kinds of businesses is actually inflation is ultimately their friend, right, as long as they can keep their costs — as long as their costs don’t inflate as quickly as their revenues.
And I think the nature of those — so I feel comfortable owning those kinds of businesses, even if inflation remains high. And also, again, historically, if you think about what is the value of a business? It’s the present value of the cash you can take out of it over its life discounted back at an appropriate interest rate. We were not discounting businesses back using 2% as an appropriate rate of interest. So we, historically, you know, our discount rate we’ve used just rough measure is more like 10%, 9%, numbers which discount the uncertainty inherent investing in equities.
SCOTT WAPNER: Alphabet is one of your more recent investments; is that correct?
BILL ACKMAN: Yes. Yeah, we bought it late last year, early this year. Early this year.
SCOTT WAPNER: How much did that have to do with AI?
BILL ACKMAN: It had a lot to do with AI because AI was the reason why the stock was cheap. Right? ChatGPT was launched, you know, incredible, game-changing type of protect and Google really fumbled their offering and so people said, oh, my God, Google is way behind in AI and the stock sold of to 15 times earnings for one of the greatest businesses in the world. And you know, we did a fair bit of work, but Google has been almost a decade — they bought DeepMind, huge — spending billions and billions on AI. It’s a company known for hiring great engineers. You can certainly presume they were at a pretty good place on AI, but there again, very different from startup. They took a much more cautious launch approach and — I think, and then kind of fumbled in early demonstration, made people think they were behind in Microsoft, and ChatGPT would sort of, if you will — open AI would eat their lunch. And it led to a very mispriced stock. And then we actually bought more in the 120s. It’s our second largest investment.
SCOTT WAPNER: Alphabet?
BILL ACKMAN: Yeah.
SCOTT WAPNER: Some would suggest that — and it was said on this stage earlier today by somebody who sold Alphabet when the ChatGPT and open AI thing came out —
BILL ACKMAN: We bought from them. So we should thank them.
SCOTT WAPNER: — that the ball was fumbled and recovered by the other team who ran for a touchdown and then piled on with other touchdowns and now Alphabet may not be able to recover the leadership role that it had, and Deep Mind is a perfect example of Alphabet having this in-house and still fumbling the ball.
BILL ACKMAN: I would say the fumbled the PR around the ball. But I think they’ve subsequently demonstrated publicly that they are integrating AI in all their various products. Obviously the most obvious example is search, and I think their Bard is sort of certainly neck and neck with ChatGPT. And we think they’re — if you think about the enormous amounts of access to data that they have by virtue of the various — you know, everything from search to the various products they offer to their customers, email and otherwise, data and the ability to legally extract and train on data is really important advantage.
They also have designed their own chips, you know, access to the cloud, access to — you know, the processing power is critical. So they’ve got many, many competitive advantages, and I think in some ways, you know, in an integrated fashion, it gives them an enormous advantage. They will be a dominant player in AI for the very, very long term I — we would expect.
SCOTT WAPNER: I joked at the outset that we haven’t sat together in a while. And we certainly haven’t done it here. And one of the last times we did was Carl comes out, you guys give each other a hug and it was this big moment. And it’s hard to believe for me, and I wonder for you, it’s been ten years since the Herbalife battle with Carl. Do you believe it’s been ten years?
BILL ACKMAN: Yes. By the way, had we held our short, we’d be up, like, 70%. So I’m still psychologically short on that position. We’ve got a nice profit.
SCOTT WAPNER: Are you still seeing ghosts at night?
BILL ACKMAN: Being psychologically short is a much lower risk way.
SCOTT WAPNER: Are you a changed investor from then. Are you different as an investor than you were ten years ago? And if so, how.
BILL ACKMAN: Sure. Of course, I’m a continuous learning machine, and all mistakes are opportunities for learning. And so hopefully — you know, I sort of decided at 50, I was like, okay, I’m not going to make any more mistakes. I made one, but look, we’ve been very fortunate. I made one, but…
No, look, we’ve been very fortunate. We’ve had the best five years in the history of the firm, and we’re fortunate in the way that we’re structured. I’ve been a kind of Warren Buffett devotee, unofficial — he’s been my unofficial mentor for many years. And if you look at his trajectory, he started out as a what today you would call an activist hedge fund manager running a series of private partnerships. Over time he took control of what he called a crappy textile company or probably what was best described as a crappy textile company. But the access to the permanency of that capital gave him the ability to take a — kind of a very long-term view in a world where people in the investment management business generally have to make short-term decisions because their capital, you know, it can leave.
We really five years ago got to that place in terms of the structure of our organization and allows us to take the kind of very long-term view and we can buy Google at $94 a share when people are scared about, you know — and we can own it. And that I think is a nice — very fortunate competitive advantage we have.
SCOTT WAPNER: Are you a better risk manager today than you were before?
BILL ACKMAN: I certainly believe so. I mean, look, short-selling was never something we actually liked, like shorting stocks, because the asymmetry is in reverse. We’re big believers in — in —
Understanding asymmetry, both in life and in investing, is critically important, and short-selling is on the inverse side of it. So, you know, we did that a couple of times; the first time very profitably, shorting bond insurers and companies — you know, Fannie, Freddie, going into the financial crisis, and then the famous Herbalife.
But since then, all we do is we own really, really great businesses. If you want to be a successful investor over time and you find a handful of great businesses, doing nothing but owning them is an amazing strategy. It’s underappreciated, if you will, as a successful way to make money.
SCOTT WAPNER: The moment from you that I said to myself, this looks to me like a different Ackman, was Netflix.
BILL ACKMAN: Okay.
SCOTT WAPNER: It was Netflix.
BILL ACKMAN: Okay.
SCOTT WAPNER: You were a huge believer in Netflix, and I remember the day when that earnings report came out and that stock dropped like a bomb.
BILL ACKMAN: Okay.
SCOTT WAPNER: Right?
BILL ACKMAN: Not a bomb, but —
SCOTT WAPNER: It dropped a lot.
BILL ACKMAN: In a meaningful way.
SCOTT WAPNER: It dropped a lot, for sure.
BILL ACKMAN: Yes.
SCOTT WAPNER: Enough that we spoke, because I went on CNBC and reported our conversation, and you said: That’s enough. I was wrong about this.
And I said: The old Bill Ackman might have said: It’s just a moment in time, management team is great, company is great, I’m staying with it.
The new Bill Ackman was like: No, I’m done. That’s it. I’m moving on.
BILL ACKMAN: So I still think the management team is great. And I’ve gotten to know Reed Hastings even more since that time, and I think he’s a first-class person; and obviously, you know, Ted and the rest of the team, Spencer, etc. I think it’s an amazing company.
I think what we misunderstood or misappreciated was, you know, once they announced basically a different strategy, it became a much more disparate outcome. We still thought they would be successful. We wrote a little letter to our investors saying, look, we think Netflix is going to be a great investment over time.
But in terms of do we want it to be one of 8 things we own or one of ten things we own, no, because the — it’s kind of the range of outcomes. As a result of the sort of change in strategy, going to an advertising model, etc, and predicting the probability of the success of that was a different kind of hurdle for us to climb.
So sort of the facts changed in a meaningful way, became a different kind of investment, I would have been happy to have that as a — you know, maybe even a 2.5% position, 3% position in portfolio. But that’s not what we do. We don’t collect 30 things, we put 3% of our capital. We own — you know, we have 22%, 25% of our capital in Universal Music; we have 16, 17% of our capital in Google.
These are businesses we feel very comfortable, we can sleep at night and have a very high confidence level of what they look like over a long period of time. If a business doesn’t meet those threshold characteristics, or something about the business changes where we misunderstood the predictability of the business, we’re happy to sell and find something else to do.
And, basically, we took the Netflix losses, but the capital, if you will, and we invested in Google. And it was a good decision. We were able to make a bigger investment in a company we had more confidence in.
SCOTT WAPNER: I think part of my point would be, just because you like the management team and you think it’s a great company doesn’t mean it’s a good stock, and you recognized that at a moment where maybe in the past you wouldn’t have, because you would have believed in it so much that you wouldn’t have sold it when you did. I thought it was a moment. I did.
BILL ACKMAN: Okay. I’ll take that.
SCOTT WAPNER: I thought it was a — I thought it was risk management like maybe people hadn’t seen from you in the past.
BILL ACKMAN: Okay.
SCOTT WAPNER: You don’t accept that?
BILL ACKMAN: I don’t think so. I think it’s something we would have done in the past. I think the big difference is, look, we’re very happy to buy more of something. Not everything we buy goes straight up, all right?
In fact, our favorite outcome is we — you know, obviously the best outcome is we could get our entire position purchased and then it goes straight up. That rarely happens. What normally happens is you buy something, you make it a meaningful position, and then something happens that causes the market to either not like the stock or the market itself goes down, and you can buy a lot more of something you know well at an even more attractive price. We’ve done that all the time in our history.
Chipotle being a perfect example. I mean, Chipotle, we bought initially at $400 a share, and then they had a couple more food safety problems and the stock was 2.50, right, which is about the move — almost exactly the move that Netflix made. And then we hired Brian Niccol to be CEO and we bought more. And, you know, one of the best investments we’ve made.
SCOTT WAPNER: You don’t do many interviews. You sure tweet a lot.
BILL ACKMAN: No, I don’t.
SCOTT WAPNER: You tweet a fair amount. You tweeted —
BILL ACKMAN: I do that to keep you — to compete with this format.
SCOTT WAPNER: Well, you give me good material that I can bring up right now.
BILL ACKMAN: Okay. Good.
SCOTT WAPNER: Icahn has his problems with Hindenburg report comes out. You tweet: “There’s a karmic quality to it. Over a storied career, Icahn has made many enemies. I don’t know if he has any real friends. He could use one here.”
You also likened it to the Archegos Debacle, I think we can call it. A little Schadenfreude?
BILL ACKMAN: No.
SCOTT WAPNER: Why did you tweet that?
When I saw it, I was like, oh, my God, he’s poking the bear.
BILL ACKMAN: No. Look, I — Carl was not a friendly counterparty when I dealt with him over the course of my life. I did make peace with the guy. He’s a charming person to hang out with and have dinner with. But I did not like the way he managed a couple situations I had business-wise. And so, you know, for Carl to be the subject of a short attack, I did think there was a circle of life kind of quality to it.
SCOTT WAPNER: You also tweeted: “Transparency is not the friend of IEP.”
BILL ACKMAN: Yes.
SCOTT WAPNER: Did you ever go short?
BILL ACKMAN: No.
SCOTT WAPNER: You never shorted IEP?
BILL ACKMAN: Never. No. Again, we don’t short stocks anymore.
SCOTT WAPNER: This might have been a special situation.
BILL ACKMAN: No, no. You know what? You’re right, I was short, psychologically short on that one too. By the way, my — I think we’re going to raise a fund of psychological shorts and you can — everyone — we’ll invite everyone to invest with us.
SCOTT WAPNER: How do you know when to cover?
BILL ACKMAN: How do you know when to cover? When it asymptotically approaches zero.
SCOTT WAPNER: You psych out yourself?
BILL ACKMAN: Yes.
SCOTT WAPNER: So I want to talk politics with you too.
BILL ACKMAN: Okay.
SCOTT WAPNER: Because speaking of Twitter, you’ve become quite passionate about that. In February you said of Vivek Ramaswamy, “I’m going to make a bold and early call. He will run for president and win.” Are you supporting him now?
BILL ACKMAN: I have supported Vivek. You know, I’ve known him probably five, six years. Very talented, very capable, very smart, a little too — maybe more than a little too to the right for me. I was hoping he would be, as I described, a kind of more center, center-right candidate. And I think he’s got a lot of great ideas, but on some positions, Ukraine and some others, I think, you know, I profoundly disagree.
SCOTT WAPNER: So whereas you said, “He’s young, smart, talented, will attract the center to the right to win, he speaks hard truths which many believe, but fear to say,” you no longer believe those things?
BILL ACKMAN: I agree with everything I said there, except for he’s not going to attract the center right. I think he’s — the problem is, it’s hard to win being to the right of President Trump, right? And I think some of his views are to the right of President Trump. And I think it’s a challenge.
I do think there is — I think there are many Republican candidates — I think there are many people that have traditionally voted Republican that would love a centrist, more centered Republican as an alternative, a capable business leader with, I would say, more centrist, more traditional, I would say, “Reaganite” views, and I don’t think we’ve — that candidate has emerged in a way that has created an opportunity to compete with President Trump.
SCOTT WAPNER: Okay. It sounds like he’s off the check writing list. Not getting any more contributions.
BILL ACKMAN: We’ll see where he goes on his various policies. Look, I like a number of the candidates. Chris Christie I’ve spent some time with recently. I thought he did a great job in the debate. I think he is much more of a, I would say, traditional Republican candidate. I think he’s done a great job in New Jersey as Governor. He’s got a lot of political experience. But, you know, is that someone that the American people will support? I don’t know. But I do think we would benefit with a broader array of choices on both sides of the aisle here, yes. Which is why I’ve been supportive of multiple people.
SCOTT WAPNER: Including Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.?
BILL ACKMAN: Yes.
SCOTT WAPNER: Are you supporting him?
BILL ACKMAN: I certainly like that his voice is in the race, for sure; and I’m meeting him for the first time, actually, tomorrow.
SCOTT WAPNER: Have you given him any money yet?
BILL ACKMAN: I’ve written him a check, yes.
SCOTT WAPNER: So, I think some would look at that and say, how could somebody who was so emotional about COVID — you came on my program, we all remember that. As committed as you were to the vaccine and getting as many people vaccinated as possible. Given his stance on vaccines in general, some might wonder how you can be supportive.
BILL ACKMAN: Actually, I think Kennedy raises a lot of important questions that need to be asked and answered about vaccines. And that’s something that we are doing a deep dive on. Just today I was on the phone with a scientist, and we want to put together — what I think needs to be done is a very detailed deep dive into all the research on vaccines, on vaccine safety, and then, among the things we have not done a lot of work on is the cumulative impact on a child, for example. You know, I was a child I had four shorts. I have a 4-year-old, the schedule is to get 73 shots. It may not be the virus, if you will, that’s designed to make you immune to a particular disease, or the dead virus or the MRNA technology. It may be aluminum or some of the other preservatives they use in vaccines which create risks and challenges.
By the way, as a parent of the 4-year-old, where the 4-year-old has no ability to consent to your injecting something into them, I feel a moral and other paternal obligation to get to the bottom of this issue.
I just spoke to a scientist today, top scientist at UCSF, who said to me, you know, Kennedy is right on 75-80% of the stuff he says about vaccines. The unfortunate thing is, there’s the 20-25% where unfortunately there’s just not enough data for the stuff he says convincingly.
So I think it’s time for us, you know, this whole vaccine thing became a political issue, where, you know, if you got a shot and wore a mask you were in one party. And if you refused to get a shot and didn’t wear a mask, you were in another political party. It’s just not a political issue, and there is real reason…
Look, we have a generation of kids who have a lot more asthma, have a lot more eczema, have a lot more autism, and we don’t yet understand the reason for that. And is it some — the adjuvant in the vaccine, is it something about the vaccine? Is it some other toxins in the environment? I think we have an obligation as parents to figure this out before we can keep —
SCOTT WAPNER: Is that where this new-found curiosity came from, from you becoming a parent?
BILL ACKMAN: No, from actually listening to what Kennedy had to say, as opposed to — look, the biggest I would say interesting — I’ll give a lot of credit to Elon and Twitter or X, whatever you want to call it. I was talking to, again, a scientist today who is a brilliant epidemiologist, and among other issues. And he was one of the scientists/doctors that raised questions about our approach to the COVID vaccine, and he was demoted on Twitter. And some of the papers he put up on one of the pre-print sites were taken down as misinformation. And you know, you look at this guy, Jay Bhattacharya at Stanford, and his recommendations for how we should have managed COVID turned out to be pretty much spot-on accurate, but he was basically taken off Twitter as misinformation.
And now Twitter has become a place where people can express their views. I’m a huge free speech advocate. I use Twitter — some — one of the most profitable investments I’ve ever made, I made because of what I learned on Twitter, which was the COVID — the trade we made where we bought CVS.
It was clear to me that it was a very high-probability event that COVID would be here, we’d have to shut the global economy, and I learned that because I could take a dispassionate view and collect data without it — at least those topics were yet to be screened, if you will. Elon has basically opened up Twitter now. And the downside to an open format is there’s going to be some hate speech, there’s going to be some things that people don’t like. The upside is that free speech has been a critical sort of tenet of our country’s principles and helps preserve the democracy.
I find that to be a really important vehicle, and on Kennedy I read the headlines and always had a perception he was a total wacko, and then I spent some time, spending several hours listening to him in a podcast doing some real work as a person, and I thought, you know, he’s raising some really important points on vaccines I hadn’t thought about.
So I would say, you know, a year ago I would have automatically taken a booster. Now I’m going to think about risk and reward, and I don’t think it makes sense for me. It may make sense for someone who has health issues, who is older. But vaccines have risk and reward, and you have to do the calculus has to whether the risk justifies the reward. I really hadn’t spent a lot of time thinking about it prior to Kennedy. I gave him a lot of credit for that.
SCOTT WAPNER: January 20, ’25, who’s taking the oath?
BILL ACKMAN: I don’t know. I don’t know. But I think the logical — it’s going to be Trump or Biden, absent someone else credible running for office. And I’ve done my best to try to convince others to run. You know, I was a big advocate for Mr. Dimon, who unfortunately decided not to.
SCOTT WAPNER: Are you thinking about today what the market impacts are going to be if one of those two —
BILL ACKMAN: No.
SCOTT WAPNER: — win?
BILL ACKMAN: No. No. I think about the global impact. You know, I think our country deserves a great leader that the entire country can get behind, and imagine what America would be like if you woke up in the morning and the entire country was excited about who is leading the country, right? And therefore we’re working together as a country to solve problems, to grow the economy, you know, to protect the world. That’s a world we’ve had in our history. We have not had it recently. And I’d love to see that world come back.
SCOTT WAPNER: Well, you’re a very sought-after speaker because you’re not afraid to take on the tough topics. And I appreciate you being here. I know we all do as well. Welcome back to Delivering Alpha. We’ll see you hopefully next year. Bill Ackman.
BILL ACKMAN: Thank you so much.