(Recasts lead to add other investments; adds details and comment on investments in Starbucks and Hilton)
By Svea Herbst-Bayliss
NEW YORK, Nov 14 (Reuters) - Billionaire investor William Ackman has turned his back on snack maker Mondelez International and put the money into potentially more lucrative bets, including global coffee company Starbucks and hotel operator Hilton Worldwide Holdings.
Ackman’s hedge fund, Pershing Square Capital Management, sold out of Mondelez International during the third quarter, some three years after spending $5.5 billion for a 7.5 percent stake, the investor told clients on a conference call on Wednesday.
“It was not a barn burner of an investment,” Ackman said on the call, adding that he has found better investments and had a change of heart as chances for an acquisition of Mondelez grew more remote.
The two most recent additions to the $7.2 billion fund’s portfolio are a 1.1 percent stake in Starbucks and a 3.7 percent stake in Hilton. Ackman took care to praise management at each company and said his team would soon be meeting with the Starbucks team.
He said Pershing Square bought the Starbucks stake for an average price of $51 a share. The stock on Wednesday was trading at $67.22 a share.
Ackman ranks among the year’s best-performing activist investors, with his private hedge fund up 9.36 percent for the year through Nov. 6 while the average activist has lost 5 percent this year, according to Hedge Fund Research data.
Ackman said that much of the recent gains have been fueled by Starbucks and investments in Chipotle Mexican Grill, which has is up 68 percent this year, and Automatic Data Processing, which has climbed 23.5 percent this year.
Ackman praised Starbuck’s decision to buy back more shares more quickly and said again that he expects the company to grow in China while also taking the right steps to keep pace with current health and wellness trends. Starbucks’ chief executive, Kevin Johnson, has made appropriate moves in selling its Tazo tea brand to Unilever, closing Teavana stores and reaching a licensing deal for Nestle to sell its packaged coffee around the world, Ackman said.
Ackman also said that Hilton, whose shares he has owned previously, has a strong pipeline with more hotels scheduled to be opened over the next years and is benefiting from the U.S. corporate tax cuts.
Some 11 months after telling investors that he planned to keep a lower profile, Ackman has largely stuck by his plans and reassured investors that he is working hard behind the scenes. “We will be active, engaged and supportive even if you don’t see us on television or in the media,” he said. (Reporting by Svea Herbst-Bayliss in New York Editing by Leslie Adler)