Los Angeles Business Journal

Herbalife Shares Plunge on Outlook, Analyst’s Questions

By Deborah Crowe Originally published May 1, 2012 at 11:36 a.m., updated May 1, 2012 at 1:46 p.m.

Herbalife Ltd. reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit as it sold more products across all its regions. But shares plummeted 20 percent Tuesday after the company forecast second-quarter earnings below estimates and a noted hedge fund investor questioned some of the company’s disclosures.

The Los Angeles distributor of nutritional supplement and weight loss products late Monday reported net income of $108 million (88 cents a share), compared with $88.7 million (71 cents) in the same period a year earlier. Revenue rose 21 percent to $964 million.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters, on average, expected the company to earn 81 cents a share on revenue of nearly $893 million.

The company expects second-quarter net income to range from 91 cents to 95 cents, compared with the Wall Street consensus of 96 cents.

Herbalife sells its products through a multi-level network of independent distributors. Shares began to drop steadily during the morning conference call, when David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital Ltd. in New York asked questions related to the percentage of distributors who actually were selling products to others, as opposed to signing up primarily to benefit from the distributor discount.

Einhorn also questioned why the company had stopped disclosing more details on levels of distributor activity in its annual filings.

Chief Financial Officer John Desimore, who was promoted to the job in 2010, said he had left the disclosures out of the last 10-K because he hadn’t considered it important information. He offered to provide that information if there was interest.

“Our objective is to be completely transparent,” Desimore said.

Herbalife released a response the day’s selloff after the markets closed, arguing that the quarterly results were the best in 32 years, and Einhorn's questions raised no new subjects or concerns.

“They were elementary questions usually asked by investors new to our industry. These are issues that have been thoroughly addressed before,” said the company. “Our business fundamentals are very strong and we are confident in our financials, our disclosures, and our network marketing business method.”

Shares closed down $14.02, or nearly 20 percent, to $56.30 on the New York Stock Exchange.