Hedge Fund Billionaire Bill Ackman Walks Back Endorsement Of Questionable Cryptocurrency – Forbes
NEW YORK, NY – JUNE 05: Bill Ackman attends The Pershing Square Foundation 10th Anniversary Celebration at Park Avenue Armory on June 5, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Sylvain Gaboury/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images)
On November 20, amid renewed scrutiny of the crypto sector following the bankruptcy filing of Sam Bankman-Fried’s FTX cryptocurrency exchange, hedge fund billionaire Bill Ackman issued a 19-tweet thread that hailed cryptocurrency’s “potential for beneficent societal impact.” His crypto paean singled out two specific blockchain projects–Helium and Dimo–as examples of “how a token could build intrinsic value over time.”
Unfortunately for Ackman, the facts tell a different story. Lime has never used Helium, as first reported by The Verge and Mashable; Lime also confirmed to Forbes, as part of a September investigation, that it had never used Helium. Forbes’ investigation had found that Helium’s executives hoarded much of the newly minted HNT tokens, and that the project generated just $92,000 in revenue between June 2021 and August 2022 from usage of Helium’s wireless data, its main use case. The HNT token, which trades at $2.46 as of Monday, November 28 at 5pm ET, is down over 95% from its high of $52.70 last November.
Twitter users and industry insiders were quick to criticize Ackman for his endorsement. “Helium lied about its [sic] users and made $6,500 a month after getting $365 million from @a16z. Umm, Bill you okay?” responded crypto critic and former actor Ben McKenzie. (a16z is the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.)
“Bill, NO. The Helium token was an actual ponzi scheme,” wrote Cory Klippenstein, CEO of bitcoin exchange Swan Bitcoin
And so, a week later on November 26, Ackman was back on Twitter trying to explain his previous tweets. His critics had “assumed that I was advocating or perhaps even ‘pumping’ specific tokens, but I was doing no such thing,” Ackman insisted on Saturday morning in a new 25-tweet thread. “Rather I was trying to make the case that crypto and tokenization were useful technologies for business formation.”
As for Helium: “In retrospect, HNT was overvalued as the Helium network has not yet generated sufficient demand to justify the high initial HNT valuations,” Ackman admitted, before adding: “Crypto projects suffer the same basic laws of economics as other businesses.” Ackman also tweeted that he is “uninvolved” in Helium. He declined to comment for this article.
It’s the second time this month that Ackman has provoked Twitter’s crypto and finance commentariat. On November 10, after disgraced crypto gambler Sam Bankman-Fried tweeted out an apology for overseeing FTX’s collapse into bankruptcy, Ackman tweeted: “You have to give @SBF_FTX credit for his accountability here. I don’t know any of the facts, but I have never before seen a CEO take responsibility as he does here. It reflects well on him and the possibility of a more favorable outcome for @FTX_Official.” Ackman quickly deleted that post, but not before several of his followers captured screenshots. FTX improperly lent billions of dollars of customer funds to Bankman-Fried’s Alameda hedge fund, the Wall Street Journal reported. That is not something worthy of a billionaire’s praise.
Ackman, 56, is worth an estimated $3.5 billion. He runs the $18.2 billion (assets) hedge fund Pershing Square, which he founded in 2004. Pershing has made billions from well-timed bets, including a $2.6 billion windfall from buying credit hedges in March 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic sank markets.
Like many of his Wall Street peers, Ackman started dabbling in crypto during the pandemic, before the recent market crash. In his Nov. 20 thread, Ackman said he’s a “small direct investor in crypto projects” such as fraud tracking company TRM Labs, accounting firm TaxBit, and NFT platform ORIGYN, and that he’s invested money in seven crypto venture capital funds. In total, crypto bets represent “less than 2%” of Ackman’s net assets. “I invest more as a hobbyist trying to learn than as a careful investor,” he said on Twitter. His 572,000 followers should not interpret his endorsements as “an investment recommendation,” Ackman also cautioned on Twitter.
In May, Ackman blasted the failed TerraLuna stablecoin as “a crypto version of a pyramid scheme” and urged the crypto industry to “self regulate.” In February, Ackman urged New York Governor Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams to remove “barriers” preventing greater crypto investment and innovation in the state.
Last year, Ackman was singing a different tune. In May 2021, speaking at the The Wall Street Journal’s Future of Everything Festival, Ackman reportedly said that he would not “feel comfortable putting a meaningful amount” of money into cryptocurrencies, which, in Ackman’s view at the time, had “no intrinsic value.”