Billionaires Icahn, Ackman hurl insults on CNBC

by Jeff Cox, Bruno J. Navarro and Patrick Rizzo /  / Updated 

Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.

It was the smackdown heard round the world when billionaires Carl Icahn and Bill Ackman behaved more like bar-room brawlers (complete with expletives like "bull----!") on live television Friday over their differences about a nutritional-supplements company.

"Our goal here was to shine a light on Herbalife," Pershing Square founder Ackman  said on "Fast Money," referring to the company which he called "a well-managed pyramid scheme." Ackman has accused Herbalife of luring people, most of them low-income, into a distribution system he calls fraudulent. 

He said Friday on CNBC that the nutritional-supplement company "deserves the highest level of scrutiny." Ackman recently announced that he took a massive short position against Herbalife, essentially betting that the company's stock will tumble.

"Frankly, Carl did me a favor by picking on me,"  he said on CNBC.

"Ackman is a liar," Icahn said. "He's got one of the worst reputations on Wall Street." Icahn also accused Ackman of destroying companies by publicly shorting their stocks.

"He's like the crybaby in the schoolyard," Icahn said.

On Friday, Icahn, who has criticized Ackman's much-publicized short in Herbalife, issued a written statement. "To get the record straight, I never asked Ackman to be my friend," Icahn wrote. "Quite to the contrary, Ackman has stated to me on more than one occasion that it's a shame we are not friends because then he could have invested with me. But, even if we were friends, I would never have invested with him because I believe he takes inordinate risks. HLF I believe proves this point." 

Ackman's firm manages $12 billion in assets. Carl Icahn, a fellow activist investor and one of the richest men in America, has an estimated fortune of nearly $15 billion.

Traders at the New York Stock Exchange punctuated the air with "oohs" and "aahs" during the arguing, while social networks lit up, with financial journalists and market watchers tweeting and posting as fast as their fingers could type. 

The setting was during the final half-hour of CNBC's "Fast Money Halftime Report" with Scott Wapner, who found himself as much of the story as the two participants.

Icahn repeatedly berated Wapner. Icahn insisted he was the one being bullied and on several occasions used the word "bull----" to describe his feelings about the on-air forum.

"I've really sort of had it with this Ackman guy," Icahn said early on.

"Carl, you think I want to you invest with you?" Ackman charged later.

"I wouldn't invest with you if you were the last man on Earth!" Icahn bellowed in an exchange typical of the show's tenor.

At the core of the dispute was Icahn's furor with Ackman over the latter's short position on Herbalife. In turn, Ackman released a statement Thursday that recalled a legal dispute between the two parties 10 years ago that resulted in Icahn having to pay Ackman's investors $4.5 million plus interest.

While each combatant scored style points during the battle, if the winner was to be declared from the performance of Herbalife, Icahn scored a clear victory.

The company's shares surged as much as $2.15 in the half-hour melee, though gains cooled afterwards.Nearly as importantly, it was great theater.

Twitter lit up, with participants frantically posting updates."Move over Snooki and The Situation.. here comes CNBC's version of "Jerry Springer With Limos" (Hat tip Sir Arthur!!)," investor Doug Kass tweeted.

CNBC's own Jim Cramer, host of "Fast Money," wondered, "Whatever happened to the dignity of wealth!??"And financial news site Business Insider simply labeled it "The Greatest Moment In Financial TV History."


Breaking News Emails

Get breaking news alerts and special reports. The news and stories that matter, delivered weekday mornings.
MORE FROM news