May 27, 2020 / 5:02 PM / a month ago

Ackman says hedge fund up 27% year to date, dumped Berkshire

FILE PHOTO: William 'Bill' Ackman, CEO and Portfolio Manager of Pershing Square Capital Management, speaks during the Sohn Investment Conference in New York City, U.S., May 8, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

BOSTON (Reuters) - William Ackman’s hedge fund is boasting double-digit gains at a time many portfolios have sunk along with the economy during the coronavirus pandemic, after the billionaire investor plowed cash into a number of companies he already owned and dumped Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway among other stocks.

The public and private funds at Pershing Square Capital Management have gained between 22% and 27% this year, handily beating both the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the average hedge fund which are each off 7% since January, Ackman said.

Ackman, who began worrying about the health and market impact of the pandemic months ago, famously hedged his portfolio with a $27 million bet that turned into a $2.7 billion windfall that he reinvested in the stock market in late March, buying bigger stakes in companies he was already betting on.

“We like what we own and we still think these stocks are cheap,” Ackman told investors on a conference call on Wednesday, adding that his portfolio contains companies whose businesses can withstand unpredictable events with severe consequences.

Positions in Berkshire Hathaway (BRKa.N), Blackstone Group (BX.N) and Park Hotels & Resorts (PK.N) were liquidated because the cash could be used more efficiently elsewhere, he said.

Money was used to buy more stock in Agilent Technologies (A.N), Starbucks (SBUX.O), Restaurant Brands International (QSR.TO), Lowe’s Cos Inc (LOW.N) and Hilton Worldwide Holdings (HLT.N), he said, arguing these large companies have best-in-class technology to weather the pandemic.

This year’s gains come on the heels of last year’s 58.1% return, the single best year since Pershing Square’s founding in 2004, and signal that Ackman is still having success with his back-to-basics strategy where in 2018, he took back control of making investments instead of being the firm’s chief marketer.

Ackman was early in closing down his Manhattan office and sending staff to work from home. When millions of other Americans were told to stay away from the office, Ackman pounced on the beaten-down stock of Lowe’s, arguing that the time for long-delayed home improvement projects is now.

“We bought Lowe’s at $84 a share and it was the bargain of a lifetime,” he said with the stock now at $127.62.

Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama

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