'Hell is coming': Billionaire Bill Ackman sent the stock market spiraling during a 28-minute interview filled with dire coronavirus warnings

REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

  • Bill Ackman warned on Wednesday, March 18 of mass casualties, industries collapsing, and a deep recession if the US government doesn’t impose a nationwide shutdown to slow the spread of coronavirus.
  • The billionaire hedge fund manager’s emotional, nearly half-hour CNBC interview pushed an already-vulnerable stock market near intraday lows.
  • Ackman also revealed that he was buying shares, sparking accusations that he was manipulating the market to drive stock prices down or profit from short bets.
  • We’ve compiled a list of the Pershing Square Capital chief’s most striking comments below.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Billionaire hedge fund manager Bill Ackman warned on Wednesday, March 18 that millions of Americans would die, industries would collapse, and the US economy would tumble into a deep recession unless there’s a 30-day nationwide shutdown to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The Pershing Square Capital chief’s dire warnings, laid out during an emotional, half-hour CNBC interview, pushed a vulnerable stock market to intraday lows.

The Dow Jones industrial average – already down more than 1,000 points when Ackman came on air – quickly hit a circuit breaker that halted trading for 15 minutes after S&P 500 losses reached 7%. The Dow reopened more than 2,000 points down, according to Forbes.

Ackman revealed during the interview that he was buying shares in Hilton, Starbucks, and Burger King-owner Restaurant Brands. The disconnect between his grave predictions and stock purchases sparked accusations that he was trying to scare investors into selling, in order to buy at a discount or profit from short bets. Market commentators also accused him of fearmongering and argued a month-long break wasn’t feasible.

Read more: ‘We have not had a single loser’: An investment chief who’s earned up to 90% per trade during the coronavirus crash breaks down his strategy – and explains why it will profit through the election

The backlash led Ackman to clarify his position in a tweet: “I am confident the president will do the right thing in temporarily shutting down the country and closing the borders.”

“If that happens, we can win the war against the virus and the markets and the economy will soar,” he added.

Here’s a roundup of Ackman’s most striking comments from his CNBC interview:

1. “My colleagues at work thought I was a lunatic” – on his preparations for the pandemic, which included withdrawing a large amount of cash from an ATM.

2. “Hell is coming” – the warning Ackman gave to the CEOs of his portfolio companies.

3. “There’s a tsunami coming” – commenting on many Americans turning a blind eye to the threat.

4. “We will go through a Depression-era period in this country, and millions of people will die around the globe. As many as a million Americans will die” – describing the scale of the coronavirus threat.

5. “30-day Spring Break, America” – referring to his proposal to shut down the country for a month and have the US government cover people’s rents and mortgages, waive taxes, and help with other expenses.

6. “Capitalism does not work in an 18-month shutdown, capitalism can work in a 30-day shutdown” – explaining why short-term economic disruption is preferable.

7. “If he can save the country from the coronavirus, he can get reelected” – outlining why President Donald Trump should be motivated to take action.

8. “Hilton is the canary in the coal mine. It’s going to zero along with every other hotel company” – predicting the fate of one of Pershing’s biggest holdings if the coronavirus isn’t stopped.

9. “He’s not saying to storm the beaches at Normandy. He’s saying, ‘go home, spend a month with your family'” – arguing that Trump’s hypothetical announcement of a national shutdown wouldn’t be that big a deal.

10. “How do we kill it? Everyone just goes home. Sit on the couch, you watch Netflix, you order in Chipotle, and you stay there for a month” – explaining his plan to stop the spread of coronavirus and what it would involve.

Read more: ‘Shark Tank’ investor Matt Higgins went from selling flowers on NYC street corners to a $US150 million net worth. Here are the 4 most important investing rules he lives by.

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