Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman said that his Pershing Square Capital Management Ltd. has exited investments in Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, the Blackstone Group Inc. (BX) and Park Hotels & Resorts (PK).
Pershing Square’s stock holding in Berkshire was valued at about $1 billion as of the end of March. Ackman divested the Blackstone position as shares have soared about 57% over the past two months, erasing all of their losses from earlier this year.
Despite strong stock market volatility triggered by the coronavirus pandemic, Pershing’s portfolio this year returned 27% on its investments as of May 26.
Speaking on an investor conference call, Ackman said that Pershing Square has about 85% to 98% of its assets invested in its funds and is holding cash positions of between 15% and 20%.
“We think it’s a very different environment than when we made the investment in Berkshire a year ago”, said partner Ryan Israel, who oversaw Pershing’s Berkshire investment, on the investor call. “We continue to think Berkshire will be a strong investment over the longer term, but we also think the current environment means there may be more than typical opportunities for us to see very high-returning investments and we wanted to make sure we have enough cash.”
At the beginning of the year, Ackman moved to protect the firm’s stock portfolio against coronavirus-related panic selling in markets by buying credit default swaps. Pershing Square yielded a stellar $2.6 billion from hedging its stock portfolio through the credit protection.
Ackman said that today, “we have $10 billion of capital to invest; we can be much more nimble,” adding that he wants to “take advantage of that nimbleness, preserve some extra liquidity in the event that prices get more attractive again.”
The billionaire investor informed investors that Pershing increased its positions in Agilent Technologies Inc. (A) by 16% at an average price of $64.57, while the stock is now trading at $86.18 a share. He also ramped up the portfolio’s stakes in Lowes Companies (LOW) at $84 a share (now trades at $128 a share), Howard Hughes, Restaurant Brands International (QSR), as well as rebuilt the Starbucks position at $60 a share. Shares in the coffee chain are currently trading at $78.60.
“So far so good,” Ackman said. “Everything we currently own is undervalued.”
Some analysts view Blackstone as a worthwhile investment. CFRA recently upgraded Blackstone to Buy from Hold, citing the company’s attractive valuation. “We view positively the secular growth opportunities at Blackstone, evidenced by 2019 asset inflows that topped $134 billion” CFRA said.
“Though near-term results could be uneven amid market uncertainty and volatility, demand for private-equity investments will be fueled by the persistently low interest-rate environment” the firm explained, adding that Blackstone is also poised to deploy its more than $150 billion of unallocated capital in a marketplace where asset values have become more attractive.
Shares in Blackstone rose less than 1% to $56.46 as of Wednesday’s close.
Turning now to the Street’s outlook on Blackstone stock, TipRanks data shows that Wall Street analysts are still cautiously optimistic. The Moderate Buy consensus consists of 8 Buy and 4 Hold ratings. However, in view of the recent share rally, the $53.85 average price target now implies 4.6% downside potential over the coming year. (See Blackstone stock analysis on TipRanks).
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