Lock Down the US to Save It from Virus, Ackman Says

‘Hell is coming,’ the activist investor admonishes, calling for more stringent measures while the nation reels economically.

As America re-orders its societal and economic life amid the raging coronavirus pandemic, stock market plunges and dire predictions of a recession abound. But perhaps the direst call of all comes from activist investor William Ackman, who wants to shut down the country for 30 days to save it.

“Hell is coming,” warned Ackman, the head of hedge fund company Pershing Square Capital Management. He urged President Donald Trump and corporate chieftains to put the nation on lockdown, in a bid to halt the virus’ spread.

Ackman echoed the sentiment of many on Wall Street in criticizing the piecemeal rollout of Washington’s response to the looming economic problems triggered by the outbreak. Grim predictions have resulted from shutting many shops and businesses nationwide as people hunker down at home.

“What’s scaring the American people and corporate America now is the gradual rollout,” Ackman told CNBC. The S&P 500 slipped yet again Wednesday, by 5.1%, amid questions about the pace of the federal government’s response to the crisis.

The president yesterday signed a bill that had been passed by the House and the Senate to provide paid sick leave, food assistance for the needy, and financial aid for coronavirus testing. Congress and the White House are working on a more ambitious $1.3 trillion package to bolster the sagging economy by, among other things, sending checks to Americans.

Ackman appeared to be calling for more stringent efforts to restrict the population’s interactions, on the order of what the Beijing regime imposed on large swaths of China, which is ground zero for the disease.

“America will end as we know it. I’m sorry to say so, unless we take this option,” he declared. Trump will be reelected in November if he saves the US from the disease, predicted Ackman, a longtime donor to Democrats.

The “tsunami” that’s coming will be the result of a prolonged period of virus-imposed economic stasis, he said. “Capitalism does not work in an 18-month shutdown; capitalism can work in a 30-day shutdown.”

Ackman outlined a cascading scenario of failing businesses: “The hotel industry and the restaurant industry will go bankrupt first, Boeing is on the brink. Boeing will not survive without a government bailout.” 

But Ackman, known for his scorched-earth tactics and harsh rhetoric toward companies he invests in, did express optimism that Trump and other world leaders would come through and save the day.

He let on that he has bought shares in Hilton Worldwide Holdings, evidently betting that its battered stock eventually will recover. The hotel chain, which Ackman has invested in previously, has lost half its value this year.

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