Short-Seller John Hempton Taunts Ackman

An article in The Sydney Morning Herald offers a profile on Australian hedge fund manager and “fraud-hunting short seller” John Hempton, a self-described eccentric who, while known mostly for his short bets, says he makes his real profits from long-term stock picking.

The article reports that Hempton’s firm, Bronte Capital Management, “has bet profitably against Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. and made money on a stake in Herbalife Ltd., both of which pit him against Ackman.” Hempton, who began his career as a tax official before joining Platinum Asset Management in 1999, has had a colorful career “sniffing out fraud” and digging up information to back bearish bets. According to the article, Bronte “came to prominence for bearish bets on Chinese companies that had listed in North America,” including Sino-Forest Corp. and Longtop Financial Technologies. The article describes some of Hempton’s more colorful short-selling escapades as well as exchanges with Ackman (who reportedly describes him as “certifiably crazy”).

But while Hempton believes that short-selling has a moral purpose, the article reports, he prefers the long game. “His real mission is to make money for investors, and he does that mostly through finding things to buy.” His stock picking method includes determining; (1) what the company does, (2) whether management is allocating capital properly, and (3) that the shares are not overvalued.

“Going long is really hard,” says Hempton. “Everyone seems to think its easy. It isn’t. It’s not easy because you don’t know about the future.”