Investor Bill Ackman urged President Donald Trump and corporate America in an impassioned plea on CNBC to shut down the country for 30 days to contain the fast-spreading coronavirus, calling it the only option to rescue the economy.
“What’s scaring the American people and corporate America now is the gradual rollout,” Ackman told Scott Wapner on “Halftime Report” on Wednesday. “We need to shut it down now. … This is the only answer.”
“America will end as we know it. I’m sorry to say so, unless we take this option,” he said. Ackman added that if Trump saves the country from the coronavirus, he will get reelected in November.
Ackman urged U.S. companies to stop their buyback programs because “hell is coming.” The biggest U.S. banks have already halted repurchasing stocks to put their capital to use helping consumers and businesses.
Worldwide coronavirus cases topped 200,000 on Wednesday, while confirmed cases in the U.S. have surged to at least 6,496. The Trump administration is working on a $1 trillion stimulus package to combat the impact of the virus, including sending out checks to the American people and providing financial relief to airlines.
“The hotel industry and the restaurant industry will go bankrupt first, Boeing is on the brink, Boeing will not survive without a government bailout,” Ackman said. “Capitalism does not work in an 18-month shutdown, capitalism can work in a 30-day shutdown.”
‘Tsunami’ is coming
The founder and CEO of Pershing Square Capital Management said he felt a “tsunami” was coming before anyone else raised a red flag about the outbreak.
“Beginning in late January I was getting increasingly bearish and I woke up with a nightmare,” Ackman said. “And my nightmare was you have this virus that replicates and infects incredibly rapidly.” He added his colleagues thought he was a “lunatic” when he took out cash from an ATM.
In the emotional interview, Ackman revealed he went into lockdown almost a month ago to save his father’s life who is immunocompromised.
“The only shared sacrifice that is going on right now is the health-care community, the nurses, the doctors, the people taking care of patients. Those people are making enormous sacrifices,” said Ackman. “[The president] is not saying storm the beaches of Normandy right now, he’s saying go home, go home, spend a month with your family.”
In response to Ackman’s remarks on CNBC, a White House official said, “As President Trump has said, we are going to ensure that we take care of all Americans, including affected industries and small businesses, and that we emerge from this challenge stronger and with a prosperous and growing economy.”
Hilton could go to zero
Ackman predicted that hotel stocks including Hilton could “go to zero” soon if no action is taken. He is a major shareholder in Hilton.
“Every hotel is going to be shut down in the country. … If we allow this to continue the way we have allowed it to continue, every hotel company in the world is done. No business can survive a period of 18 months without revenue,” Ackman said.
Shares of Hilton have tanked nearly 50% in March alone, while Marriott plunged 60% this month amid the market turmoil. The S&P 500 tumbled into a bear market last week and the sell-off accelerated on Wall Street as investors feared the coronavirus will tip the economy into a recession. The benchmark was last 29.5% off its record high.
Still, Ackman said he grew optimistic that world leaders including Trump will move immediately to save the global economy.
“I’ve been aggressively buying stocks including Hilton today. And I’ve ben buying all the way down — Hilton, Restaurant Brands and Starbucks,” Ackman said.
— CNBC’s Eamon Javers, Thomas Franck and Maggie Fitzgerald contributed to this report.
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