Friday, September 8, 2023

Interviews with Bill Ackman and his wife, Neri Oxman; Charlie Bilello's Week in Charts; 'I'm OK, but Things Are Terrible'; Bonnie Carroll came to visit; A Russian yelled at me

By Whitney Tilson

1) My friend Julia La Roche recently interviewed my college buddy Bill Ackman of Pershing Square Capital Management...

You can stream it on your favorite podcast app or watch it on YouTube here: Bill Ackman On Activist Investing, The Economy, and Learning From Mistakes.

Here's a summary and index:

Billionaire investor Bill Ackman, CEO of Pershing Square Capital, joins Julia La Roche on episode 100 for an exclusive and wide-ranging conversation.

In this episode, Ackman revisits the various eras of his investing career, from his first stock purchase as a Harvard Business School student to his bet against MBIA and his activist stake in Wendy's. He also discusses his transition to a "quieter" phase of activist investing and his foray into tech investing with the recent addition of Google's parent company, Alphabet.

Along the way, Ackman shares lessons and insights on a range of topics, including raising capital in the face of rejection, learning from mistakes, and the importance of optimism and free speech.

Ackman also provides an update on the macroeconomic outlook, shares his thoughts on the 2024 presidential election, discusses the recent regional banking crisis, and more.

0:00 Welcome Bill Ackman to the show
0:25 A 'self-study' in investing
1:30 The first stock Ackman purchased
4:00 Raising capital like 'blind dating'
5:45 Willingness to go against 'the system'
8:30 Origins of Ackman's persistence
9:20 Incentives drive human behavior
11:30 Learning from mistakes/failure
12:50 Optimism
15:05 Why Ackman/Pershing Square survived the challenging years
17:50 Codifying the 8 principles in stone
19:30 3 eras of Pershing Square
26:30 Rise of passive/indexing
31:10 Twitter/free speech
34:10 Macro assessment
35:30 Longer-term risks to the economy
37:45 2024 election
39:40 Would Ackman ever run for office?
41:10 Regional banks
43:00 Buying Google/impact of AI
48:06 $600 million to philanthropy
50:30 Parenting

2) While it doesn't relate to investing, I also highly recommend Lex Fridman's latest podcast with Bill's wife, Neri, who's also a dear friend and is absolutely brilliant...

You can stream it on your favorite podcast app or watch it on YouTube here: Neri Oxman: Biology, Art, and Science of Design & Engineering With Nature.

The transcript is here, and here's an index:

0:00 – Introduction
1:49 – Biomass vs anthropomass
16:10 – Computational templates
36:25 – Biological hero organisms
47:25 – Engineering with bacteria
55:42 – Plant communication
1:09:05 – Albert Einstein letter
1:12:27 – Beauty
1:17:23 – Faith
1:27:09 – Flaws
1:46:58 – Extinction
1:58:05 – Alien life
2:01:55 – Music
2:03:22 – Movies
2:07:54 – Advice for young people

3) In yesterday's e-mail, I wrote about the importance of getting information from high-quality news sources and cited the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Financial Times.

In addition, I have my analyst follow a handful of accounts on X (formerly known as Twitter) – including Liz Ann Sonders, the chief investment strategist for Charles Schwab (SCHW), about whom I wrote on Wednesday, and Charlie Bilello, the director of research at Pension Partners. In his latest weekly post, The Week in Charts, he shares many fascinating charts on the following topics:

  • The Loosening Labor Market
  • Falling Rents
  • Falling Home Prices
  • Falling Commercial Real Estate
  • Falling Investor Demand (for homes)
  • The Master of Credit Cards (about the incredible performance of Mastercard (MC))
  • Will Rising Oil Lead to Another Rate Hike?
  • Deeper in Debt
  • A Few Interesting Stats

4) In yesterday's e-mail, I also wrote about the importance of not letting your political views affect your analysis of the economy and investment decisions.

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman just wrote about how widespread this phenomenon is: 'I'm OK, but Things Are Terrible.' It's rather stunning that at the end of 2022, 73% of households said that they were "at least doing OK financially," yet only 18% said that the national economy was good or excellent. Similarly:

According to a recent poll by The Wall Street Journal, 74 percent of Americans say that inflation has moved in the wrong direction over the past year – a result stunningly at odds with the data, which shows inflation plunging.

From this, we can infer that roughly three-quarters of Americans are making investment decisions based on the belief that the economy is doing terribly and inflation is rising – meaning they are likely making bad investment decisions!

5) My dear friend and amazing humanitarian Bonnie Carroll, the founder of TAPS, the charity partner for my Ukraine campaign (website here), was in New York City and stopped by my apartment on Tuesday morning...

We caught up on all things Ukraine, she met my wife and parents, and saw the Ukrainian art I brought back from Estonia, some of which I'm holding in this picture:

Note I was wearing my favorite shirt, which says in Ukrainian and English, "Russian military ship, go f**k yourself." I was wearing it at the U.S. Open on Tuesday afternoon and, after the last match ended and I was getting up to walk out, a man across the aisle pointed at my shirt and was yammering loudly in a language I didn't recognize. I occasionally get positive comments when I wear this shirt, so I assumed he was a Ukrainian who liked it, so I smiled, gave him a thumbs up, and said "Slava Ukraini!"

He kept yammering, so I went over to him and said, "Are you Ukrainian?" In broken English, he said "No, I'm from Kaliningrad," which is part of Russia on the Baltic Sea that's separated from Russia proper (it houses the Russian Baltic Fleet and is the country's only ice-free European port):

It was only then I realized he was angry with me, so I smiled and walked away. I'm glad the encounter took place in an environment with a lot of security – he was so agitated that, had it taken place on the street, I think he might have assaulted me...

This actually happened to a friend in Lisbon, Portugal a few months ago. He lived in Ukraine for many years before leaving right after the invasion and was out to dinner with some Ukrainian friends. As he was leaving, a Russian beat him up and sent him to the hospital (with only minor injuries, fortunately).

We thought he might have been a target of the Russian government because of his work (which I've supported) to raise money for his Ukrainian friends on the front lines, but after the Lisbon police caught the assailant, it turns out that he was just some drunken idiot...

Best regards,


P.S. I welcome your feedback at [email protected].