Ackman Is Making a Killing on His Big Alphabet Bet

Pershing Square is jumping on the AI bandwagon.

Bloomberg / Christopher Goodney

Bloomberg / Christopher Goodney

Bill Ackman appears to have already made about $370 million on his new bet on Alphabet, the parent company of Google. That’s because the stake is larger than what has previously been disclosed — and the stock has been on a tear.

In a quarterly investor call with investors in his publicly traded hedge fund Wednesday, Ackman said that Pershing Square’s funds have a stake that is “20 to 25 percent larger” than the 10,254,770 shares reported on the firm’s quarterly 13F filing, which was revealed May 15.

Alphabet shares have jumped about 30 percent since Pershing Square invested in the company last quarter at an average price between $94 and $95 per share, Ackman told investors. He explained that the additional stake was made through forward contracts, which Pershing Square often uses. Those do not have to disclosed to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Pershing Square is one of several hedge funds that jumped into Alphabet during the quarter. The others include Third Point, which bought 4.75 million shares; Maple Lane, with 1.945 million shares, Duquesne with 877,720 shares; Moore Capital with 639,000 shares; Pennant Investors with 410,000 shares; Discovery Capital with 302,300; Highland Capital, with 186,272 shares, and Element Capital with 185,637 shares.

Meanwhile Coatue massively increased its stake to more than 5 million shares, while Tiger Global more than doubled its stake to 8.3 million shares, and Point 72 increased its holdings by almost 200 percent to 3.3 million shares.

On the call, Pershing Square partner and analyst Bharath Alamanda said the fund invested in the company despite concerns that its search engine would be negatively impacted by the rapid development of artificial intelligence. The fund said Alphabet had prioritized machine learning earlier than any of its peers and is building several products.


Ackman predicted Alphabet would be a “secular winner” in AI.

Former Google executives, however, have been sending warnings about AI. Speaking Wednesday at The Wall Street Journal’s CEO Council Summit, former Google CEO Eric Schmidt said that artificial intelligence could cause people to be “harmed or killed” amid possible “existential risks.”

Earlier this month, AI pioneer Geoffrey Hinton told the New York Times he had quit Google over concerns about where the technology was leading. “It is hard to see how you can prevent the bad actors from using it for bad things,” he told the Times.

The introduction of ChatGPT to the mass market this year has elevated these concerns. Google has introduced its own version of the chatbot, called Bard AI.

While AI may prove to be a boon to Alphabet, so far Pershing Square’s largest position, Universal Music, has been dinged by worries about AI-generated music that emerged after a song created by an AI clone of Drake’s voice went viral. The stock has fallen 15 percent this year.

Universal Music Chairman and CEO Sir Lucian Grainge addressed those concerns during the first quarter earnings call, saying that AI generated music could “create rights issues with respect to existing copyright law in the U.S. and other countries — as well as laws governing trademark, name and likeness, voice impersonation, and the right of publicity.”

Grainge said much of the AI-generated music “clearly violates artists’ and labels’ rights and will put platforms completely at odds with the partnerships with us and our artists and the ones that drive success.”

The Drake clone video was taken down quickly, and the U.S. Supreme Court recently refused to hear an appeal of a lower court ruling that only human inventors can be granted patents.

Pershing Square believes worries about AI’s negative impact on Universal are overblown. In fact, the hedge fund firm thinks Universal may be able to use AI to its benefit, given its ownership of a lot of valuable intellectual property that be used with AI to create new music.

“We think it’s a very large opportunity,” Ryan Israel, Pershing Square’s chief investment officer, said on the call.

Year to date Pershing Square funds are up between 3.3 percent and 4.7 percent, depending on the fund, Ackman told investors.