Herbalife Does Not Track Retail Sales

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This little gem is courtesy of Shortzilla, a Seeking Alpha contributor. In a 1986 Final Judgment and Permanent Injunction against Herbalife in California, the company agreed to the following:

B.  defendants shall be in compliance with this Section 5, as long as a verification or documentation system they implement allows them, at any given point in time, to verify or: document to plaintiffs that any and all participants who receive commissions, bonuses, overrides and/or advancement from defendants in  defendants marketing program, after entry of this judgment, are based on retail sales made by or through such participant(s) or others introduced directly or indirectly under participant(s). Continue reading

Bill Ackman on His Herbalife Short

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Herbalife (NYSE: HLF) has been hit by a short seller again. Earlier this year it was David Einhorn simply asking questions about the business. This time it is Bill Ackman calling Herbalife a pyramid scheme and laying out his case.

Pyramid scheme allegations are nothing new. Each time, Herbalife vehemently denies it is a pyramid scheme, and says it’s a legitimate company, with legitimate products, and a legitimate business opportunity. It is this “business opportunity” that merits the pyramid scheme allegations.

Herb Greenberg of CNBC has been researching Herbalife for a long time. Back in May, Greeberg pointed out the reasons he thinks investors should worry about Herbalife: Continue reading

Multi-Level Marketing or Pyramid Scheme?

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Recently Bruce Craig, a retired lawyer from the Wisconsin Department of Justice in the area of consumer protection, published an interesting article on multilevel marketing: An Investor’s Guide To Identifying Pyramid Schemes. The controversy surrounding Herbalife (NYSE: HLF), and initiated simply because David Einhorn asked a few questions about the company, was the impetus for Bruce’s comments.

I believe that most mulit-level marketing companies (MLM, for short) are pyramid schemes that are allowed to operate in the United States. They are very careful in their efforts to avoid the label of “illegal pyramid scheme,” but that doesn’t mean they’re not pyramid scheme in substance. Continue reading

Multi-Level Marketing Companies and Pyramid Schemes

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For decades, muti-level marketing companies like Amway, Mary Kay, Herbalife, Avon, and Usana have fought against being labeled as pyramid schemes. They say that pyramid schemes are illegal, and that their MLM business format is perfectly legal.

My definition of MLMs is a little nuanced. I tend to call them legalized pyramid schemes. What I mean by this is that multi-level marketing companies are indeed pyramid schemes, but our state and federal governments allow them to operate and generally call them legal if they have the right window dressing. Continue reading

Herbalife: Important or Not Important?

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Questions posed to Herbalife earlier this year by David Einhorn sent the stock price down quickly. Einhorn simply wanted to know about customers… actual consumers of the Herbalife products.

One has to assume Einhorn has done lots of research on multi-level marketing. And he knows the real deal. Herbalife’s customers are the distributors. Corporate doesn’t care much if the products get to a real customer after that. They’ve already made their sale and collected their money.

Multi-level marketing has very little to do with selling the product, and relies almost exclusively on continual recruitment of new distributors. But the product is important to make the MLMs not look like pure pyramid schemes. Continue reading

Similarities Between Herbalife and Pyramid Scheme BurnLounge

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In March, the Federal Trade Commission entered an order against multi-level marketing company BurnLounge, prohibiting the company and its founders from making certain misrepresentation and requiring them to disclose certain things in the future. Over the last few months, the heat has been on Herbalife, after short seller David Einhorn asked some important questions on a conference call. (Don’t let HLF tell you the questions were elementary or not important. They are very important.)

There is no doubt that Herbalife has had much financial success over the years. It is the largest publicly traded MLM, and its stock price has increased greatly since 2007. But are there things to be worried about? If you know something about multilevel marketing, the answer is YES. Continue reading

Fortune on Herbalife and David Einhorn

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Two weeks ago the big news was Herbalife’s earnings call, and questions asked by David Einhorn. Stephen Gandel, senior editor at Fortune Magazine wrote a great article on the Herbalife questions and their significance. I was quoted relative to the issues of distributors and recruiting:

It’s not clear Einhorn has already placed his bets against Herbalife, but it seems likely he would do so before tipping his hand, even slightly. Einhorn only asked three questions on the conference call, so it’s not clear why he thinks the company’s shares will fall. But Tracy Coenen, a forensic accountant, who has been following Herbalife for a few years, says that from Einhorn’s questions it appears he is concerned about Herbalife’s growth. Continue reading

A New Look at Herbalife

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Yesterday the stock of Herbalife (NYSE:HLF) dropped 20 percent when David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital began asking questions during the company’s earnings call. Herbalife is a multi-level marketing company which sells vitamins. The company describes itself:

We pursue our mission of “changing people’s lives” by providing a financially rewarding business opportunity to distributors and quality products to distributors and customers who seek a healthy lifestyle. We are one of the largest network marketing companies in the world with net sales of approximately $3.5 billion for the fiscal year ended December 31, 2011. As of December 31, 2011, we sold our products in 79 countries through a network of approximately 2.7 million independent distributors. Continue reading

Wondering Why Frauds at Public Companies Aren’t Being Pursued by the Feds?

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Consumers are often left wondering why the Securities and Exchange Commission doesn’t heavily pursue allegations of fraud against public companies like Overstock.com (NASDAQ:OSTK), Usana Health Sciences (NASDAQ:USNA), Herbalife (NYSE:HLF), and the like. I’ve always said the answer is simple: There are not enough resources devoted to investigating and prosecuting fraud in public companies. Executives are free to use phony accounting measures and other false information to hype the company with little fear of action by the SEC. Continue reading

Failure Rates in YTB and Other MLMs

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Noted MLM expert Robert FitzPatrick did a recent blog post on the YourTravelBiz.com lawsuit filed by the California Attorney General. He has a nice analysis of how and why YTB is nothing more than a pyramid. These multi-level marketing companies are almost always the same, they each just have a different “hook.” In this case, the hook is travel services, although according to the company’s own numbers, very little travel is actually sold. (That’s a clue to it being a pyramid scheme… Little “real” business done, in favor of instead selling a dream and recruiting with that dream.)

Here are some interesting statistics and analysis from Fitzpatrick: Continue reading