Bill Ackman just made another massive bet on a new COVID-19 surge

Ackman said he made his new hedge on the day that Pfizer announced its promising new COVID-19 vaccine

Bill Ackman just placed another big bet against the credit markets as coronavirus cases surge nationwide.

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The billionaire investor said he has bought $8 million worth of insurance that will pay off if companies start defaulting on their debts like they did when the virus shut down the economy in the spring.

The bet is nearly identical to — albeit only 30 percent as big as — his now-famous hedge in late March, in which he bought $27 million of credit-default swaps that netted him a staggering profit of $2.6 billion.

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“I hope we lose money on this next hedge,” Ackman told a Financial Times conference on Tuesday. “We’re in a treacherous time generally and what’s fascinating is the same bet we put on eight months ago is available on the same terms as if there had never been a fire and on the probability that the world is going to be fine.”

Bill Ackman, chief executive officer and portfolio manager at Pershing Square Capital Management, speaks during the SALT conference in Las Vegas, Nevada, on May 18, 2017. (Reuters/Richard Brian)

Ackman said he made his new hedge on the day that Pfizer announced its promising new COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer’s announcement was “actually bearish,” Ackman said, predicting that it will prompt Americans to grow complacent about mask-wearing, allowing the deadly virus to spread even more widely.

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When Ackman took his profits on March 23, there were just over 10,000 new cases of COVID-19 nationwide. On Tuesday, new cases were just shy of 140,000, a dizzying number that has stoked fears of a second lockdown.

While he sees risk in the near term, Ackman predicted “a robust recovery” in 2021.

Ackman’s trade in the spring massively boosted his hedge fund, whose performance had been shaky in recent years. His fund, which had been down 7 percent before the pandemic, plowed the windfall from the credit swaps into fresh stock bets and is now up 44 percent this year.

Ackman meanwhile is sitting on a $5 billion blank check company that he has used to try to lure big acquisitions like Airbnb and Bloomberg LP.

Another factor in Ackman’s first trade was Ackman himself.

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The corporate cage-rattler came under fierce criticism in March for his role in the news cycle that preceded the shutdowns. On March 18, Ackman fired off a tweetstorm to President Trump, recommending that he impose a nationwide “extended spring break” to combat the coronavirus.

Later that day, an emotional Ackman called in to CNBC and warned that “Hell is coming.”

“Until a vaccine is manufactured, distributed and injected, we will go through a Depression-era period in the country,” Ackman exhorted. “Millions of people are going to die around the globe and as many as a million Americans, it’s just math.”

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