Days after teary TV appearance, Bill Ackman nets $2.6B from bet against market

When billionaire Bill Ackman went on television last week to tearfully warn that “hell is coming” and beg the White House to shut down the country for 30 days, he was knee deep in a bet against the markets that netted him $2.6 billion.

In a Wednesday note to investors of his Pershing Square fund, Ackman said he cashed out of a credit hedge on Monday for a profit of $2.6 billion. The hedge, which he started building on March 3, cost him roughly $27 million and scored big as stock and debt markets floundered on fears of the coming pandemic — fears, critics say, that he helped stoke.

After firing off a tweetstorm to President Trump on March 17 proposing that the US impose a nationwide “extended spring break” to combat the virus’ spread, Ackman called into CNBC the next morning. In an emotional interview, he claimed to have locked down in late February after realizing how deadly the pandemic was going to be for people like his immuno-compromised septuagenarian father.

“Everyone feels, you know, 99 percent chance I’ll be OK!’” Ackman said on the air. “But it’s not you: It’s the person you give it to. I am not going to kill my father, OK?”

After his CNBC appearance, Ackman was lambasted by critics for helping an already depressed stock market sink lower. “Please get Ackman off CNBC before people start jumping off bridges,” fellow billionaire and ex-hedge fund manager Michael Novogratz tweeted.

Now the size of Ackman’s profit — tied to credit spreads widening as investors ran for safety — is turning heads again.

“It looks like a hell of a trade,” quipped one trader at a large bank who read Ackman’s Wednesday letter. “I guess Bill was crying on TV for a lot of reasons. Tears of joy.”

Sources close to Ackman say he’s lost money overall given his exposure to stocks, resulting in a loss of 6.5 percent for the year in early March. And they point out that he was one of the first financiers to close his office and tell staff to work from home in order to prevent the spread of the virus in late February.

“Maybe it had something to do with what was going on in the world,” one source quipped about the global stock rout.

During his CNBC interview, Ackman said he would buy stocks based on his confidence that Trump would follow his advice. He was particularly bullish about stock in Hilton Hotels, which he predicted would “go to zero” if radical action wasn’t taken against the virus.

In his Wednesday letter, Ackman told investors that “substantially all of the proceeds” from his $2.6 billion windfall would be used to buy more stock in current investments, like Hilton, Starbucks, Restaurant Brands and Lowe’s.

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Philips TV deal gets you 50-inch 4K telly for £399 – its lowest price EVER

YOU can save £130 on a big 4K Smart TV right now from Amazon.

The online giant has slashed the cost of a 50-inch Philips set to its lowest ever price.

The TV deal comes as part of a week of savings on Philips products.

And it cuts the cost of the Philips 50PUS7304/12 to £399.

That’s a hefty drop as Amazon previously listed the TV at £530.

And the average price at Amazon since it was first listed is £572.

  • Philips 50-inch Ambilight TV, £399.99 (saving £130) – buy here
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Philips Ambilight TVs emit light from the set matching what's being show on screen

But there’s more to this deal than just the new low price – you get a great future-proofed TV.

The 4K Philips set is one of the company’s ‘Ambilight’ range.

So emits colours around the top and sides to match the on-screen action in real-time.

The idea is to create an immersive atmosphere which looks and feels great.

It’s also features HDR10+ technology, or High Dynamic Range.

For content which supports it, you can expect better contrast (darker blacks and brighter whites), and a wider range of colours.

And, just like 4K content, HDR content is still growing across services so this set will stand you in good stead.

So you could hook up a device like the Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K and enjoy full 4K content from top services.

Or you could play full 4K games on the screen, with the Ambilight adding to the on-screen action.

And get a really good display on a TV now available at £130 off.

  • Philips 50-inch Ambilight TV, £399.99 (saving £130) – buy here

All prices in this article were correct at the time of writing, but may have since changed. Always do your own research before making any purchase.

What is 4K, Ultra HD and UHD?

Here's an easy guide to what 4K means…

  • 4K, Ultra HD and UHD are all different names for the same type of TV screen. 4K refers to the number of pixels on your TV screen – or the "image resolution"
  • The pixels are the tiny dots of colour that make up the image you see on your telly. A pixellated image is one where the pixels are really obvious, because there aren't many. But images with lots of pixels – like a 4K movie – generally look sharper and clearer
  • A true 4K screen has 4096 x 2160 pixels. That means on your TV screen there are 3840 pixels across, and 2160 pixels vertically. That's roughly 8.3 million pixels on the display in total
  • 4K gets it's name because it's got four times the number of pixels as a standard Full HD TV
  • Full HD (or 1080p) screens have 1920 pixels across, and 1080 pixels going upwards – for around two million pixels in total. So 4K just means your TV has many more pixels on the screen compared to a more common Full HD display
  • Ultra HD, or UHD, is basically the same as 4K. If you buy a UHD telly in a shop, you'll be able to watch 4K content on it with no bother
  • But there is a small difference. Almost every TV you ever buy has an aspect ratio of 16:9. That means for every 16 pixels horizontally, there are 9 vertically
  • True 4K footage doesn't quite fit in with that ratio, so you won't often find TVs with 4096 x 2160 pixels. Instead, to fit with the 16:9 ratio, most 4K TVs will have 3840 x 2160 pixels instead
  • If it doesn't make sense, grab a calculator and divide 2160 by 9. Then multiply it by 16, and you'll get 3840. That's the aspect ratio working its magic. So when you see an Ultra HD TV, it just means it's a 4K image with slightly fewer vertical pixels
  • If you try watching a 4K video on a non-4K TV, the video will still play – but it won't be in 4K quality. To watch a 4K video in 4K quality, you'll need to fork out for a 4K TV. Similarly, if you're watching standard or HD footage on a 4K TV, it won't magically become 4K quality
  • Some TVs promise "4K upscaling", which converts your standard or HD footage to near-4K quality. This works by using software to guess what colours would fill the extra empty pixels missing in HD footage, and then filling them in. This creates a 4K-like effect, but it's not true 4K

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MAFS drama: Reality TV is going to have to get a lot less nasty

In the 1st century AD, the biggest show in town was the Colosseum in Rome, where spectators could watch competitors tear each other to shreds. Entertainment is pretty much the same today, although it now screens Sunday to Wednesday nights on Nine and is called Married at First Sight.

The program seemingly involves complete strangers marrying (except they don’t as it’s against the law). These people are thrown together to live, eat, sleep, have sex, cheat, and pour red wine over each other during explosive dinner parties.

MAFS, as it is known, is Nine’s most prominent and popular show thanks to its skilled production and addictive nature. It permeates Nine’s entire ecosystem, providing a halo for other shows such as Doctor Doctor, while spawning the Talking Married show on catch up services 9Now, news reports on nine.com.au, updates of women’s site 9Honey and, of course, media commentary in this very newspaper (owned by Nine).

Married At First Sight’s Poppy and LukeCredit:

Beyond Nine, there are endless news stories, recaps and reviews across a wide range of websites, dissecting what is billed as “Australia’s biggest social experiment”. Except of course it isn’t. When Big Brother UK tried the "social experiment" line, scientists pointed out that no ethics committee would ever approve an experiment that was so cruel.

The question is how damaging is it, not just for participants, but for Nine and the network’s brand as it continues to shift away from free-to-air advertising revenue. Despite confidentiality agreements, more and more participants are speaking out in a way that is damaging to Nine and production company Endemol Shine Australia, alleging manipulation and, in some cases, dissatisfaction with their treatment by producers.

You have all heard the tale of Dr Frankenstein, now meet the modern-day TV equivalent, the Frankenproducer. This is an industry term slowly gaining traction for just how manipulated reality-TV scenarios have become. Heck, even Q&A on the ABC will seat leftist activist Van Badham next to a conservative and watch sparks fly. MAFS is probably the exemplar. Casting is the most obvious manipulation. But reaction shots can come from entirely different incidents. One contest woke up the next morning after an explosive party wearing different coloured nail polish. And alcohol has long been a reality-TV producer’s best friend. Things got murkier in a recent newspaper report that detailed one contestant leaving the show because she felt “uncomfortable” sharing a bed with her on-screen husband.

It is quite possible an interventionist regulator might also look at standards in reality-TV programs.

It seems clear reality TV is going to have to get a lot less nasty. All networks are on notice after the New South Wales Compensation Commission last year ordered Channel 7 to pay compensation to a House Rules contestant after she was harassed and bullied on the show.

Nine is very firm that it looks after the welfare of all MAFS participants but it is concerned. The network's communications team sent out a letter to local journalists urging caution after the suicide of Love Island UK presenter Caroline Flack, who was pursued by the tabloids after she was charged with assaulting her boyfriend. The note says producers Endemol Shine Australia and Nine have “individual producers trained in mental health first aid” and other means of support, but also took aim at the media. “We would like to remind you as well that the words you write or speak about these people have an impact too and at times that ripple effect causes people hurt and distress. We encourage you to consider the wellbeing of all these individuals as you choose to cover the show.”

The letter expressed the wish Nine and journalists could continue to work together “on this program that the audience has shown they love”.

There is no question that MAFS has helped Nine to be in the strongest position of all the free-to-air networks. Revenue fell by 1.7 per cent for the half year to December to $1.19 billion, while group earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) was flat at $250.8 million. Beyond a touching optimism that advertising will get better, Nine’s chief executive Hugh Marks sweetened its results last month with a $100 million cost-cutting program — more than 20 per cent of its earnings base. The move to a glittering new media tower at 1 Denison Street in North Sydney will save money while updating facilities at the same time.

Nine's shareholding in online real estate portal Domain is critical to the business and often overlooked. Domain remains No.2 to News Corp’s realestate.com.au but Nine’s footprint is helping Domain expand into markets such as south-east Queensland. The word is Marks, who has joined the Domain board, is pushing chief executive Jason Pellegrino hard. Meanwhile, revenue at streaming service Stan grew by 79 per cent while the business added 100,000 active subscribers. But more rivals are entering what is a very competitive part of the market. Profitability remains constrained.

Against this backdrop, Nine (and its rivals) can ill-afford the cost of more regulation. Already, the Australian Communications and Media Authority has highlighted what it describes as public concerns about the integrity of free-to-air television news. It is quite possible an interventionist regulator might also look at standards in reality-TV programs.

The local industry will resist such impositions, of course, but if more contestants speak out and complain to regulators and tribunals, new rules could be imposed. Preemptive action might be in order given the industry is one scandal away from disaster. If the past year has proven anything, it is that if broadcasters don’t act, skittish advertisers will make decisions for them.

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