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The Mystery of Herbalife Deepens

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As the unflappable rock-and-roller Jerry Lee Lewis might sing, "Goodness, gracious, great balls of controversy" if he wrote a song today about Herbalife (HLF).

Billionaire activist investor Carl Icahn, who indirectly owns over 16.35 million shares (as of March 8, 2013, making him a "beneficial owner," which signifies his stake exceeds 10% of the outstanding shares) may be singing a different part of the same song.

If I owned 10% or more of HLF, I may be singing, "You shake my nerves and you rattle my brain, too much love [think HLF] drives a man insane. ..." Icahn 's big bet on HLF puts him in direct opposition to a longtime rival, hedge fund manager Bill Ackman, who took the "short side" of the HLF bet.


Their longtime, ongoing feud is legendary, but the mystery that enshrouds Herbalife keeps getting more curious with every passing day. Back on Feb. 15, Icahn told CNBC that his investment in HLF wasn't about his unmasked dislike of Ackman.

"I'm not going to lie to you and say that if Ackman gets squeezed, I'll feel very sorry and cry and do penance," Icahn said on CNBC that Friday. "But that's not the reason I'm doing this." He described HLF as a financially fit company that had potential for continuing growth.

He even referred to HLF as "a quintessential example of a company that should be taken private." Then he added that it was his opinion (and he voted with his wallet on it) that Herbalife sold good, quality products.

HLF is a network marketing company (sometimes referred to as "multi-level marketing") that sells weight management, healthy meals and snacks, sports and fitness, energy and targeted nutritional products as well as personal care products worldwide.

Herbalife has been back in the headlines lately, this time due to news that broke April 9 that a partner at the accounting firm KPMG had allegedly been caught in some kind of insider trading scandal. This was the reason given for the auditor's resignation from both HLF and SkechersUSA (SKX).

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