After Bill Ackman hinted that he would unveil his latest investing play at the Grant's Interest Rate Observer fall conference in New York City, the Pershing Square founder didn't disappoint. In his first major new position since unveiling his Lowe's stake in May, Ackman said during an afternoon presentation that his firm had taken a $900 million stake in Starbucks.
Pershing amassed its stake over the last 90 days, and now owns 15 million of Starbucks, which saw its shares surge more than 5% on the headline:
Ackman praised Starbucks' business model, and cited its expansion into China, where premium coffee is quickly becoming an "aspirational" product for the middle class, as a key driver of growth (while downplaying local competition). He also justified opening the position by saying the exit of longtime CEO Howard Schultz, and the subsequent dip in Starbucks' shares, offered an ideal entry point, per Yahoo Finance.
Speaking at Grant’s Fall 2018 Conference at the Plaza Hotel in New York, he called the coffee juggernaut “one of the greatest businesses in the world.” Ackman said he wished that he had bought shares during the financial crisis.
The growth driver is China where premium coffee is becoming an aspirational product as more Chinese enter the middle class.
"Many Chinese go to Starbucks as the 'third place' to hang out," Ackman said, adding that the company has a "big runway" in China.
Ackman downplayed some of the new competition in China, including Luckin.
"It’s a bit like saying a new hamburger chain opened with McDonald’s," he said.
Ackman noted that it’s "healthy, unlike soda" and it’s also "addicting." Another trend that makes it an attractive category is teens are buying coffee more than previous generations.
One of the reasons the stock has been weak is because of the CEO change, with Howard Schultz stepping down. Another has been a slowdown in U.S. same-store sales.
"This is one of the most dominant companies in the industry that I’ve ever seen," Ackman said, adding, "This is an extremely dominate business."
Since exiting his disastrous Herbalife short earlier this year, the embattled investor, who was forced to lay off 20% of his firms' staff in early 2018 after three consecutive years of losses, has focused instead on taking long positions in more well-established firms in the retail and food-service space (though his firm notably trimmed its Chipotle position during the second quarter after the bet proved profitable).
But Ackman's Starbucks call wasn't the only bomb dropped on the audience Tuesday afternoon...