By Sam Forgione and Katya Wachtel
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Billionaire investor George Soros has taken a large long position in the stock of nutritional supplement company Herbalife Ltd, a source familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.
The stock of Herbalife rose as high as $66.25 - its highest price since May 2012 - after CNBC first reported the stake shortly after 11 a.m. CNBC also reported that Soros' long position in Herbalife counts as one of his top three holdings.
Shares of Herbalife have risen over 8 percent following the first report of Soros' stake.
A spokesman for Herbalife declined to comment on the Soros investment.
Herbalife has been the subject of intense scrutiny for many months in the $2.25 trillion hedge fund industry, with several major players betting for or against the stock.
William Ackman, the founder of Pershing Square Capital Management, has been Herbalife's most vocal opponent, calling the company a pyramid scheme.
Pershing Square has a $1 billion short on Herbalife's stock, which is a bet that the stock's price will fall. Ackman has lost roughly $300 million on the bet, Reuters has reported.
On the other side of the bet, Soros joins billionaire investor Carl Icahn and Daniel Loeb, the founder of Third Point, a New York hedge fund. Loeb made hundreds of millions of dollars before selling out of the position earlier this year, and Icahn remains one of Herbalife's top stakeholders.
Icahn has a long position of about 16.46 percent in the company. When the veteran investor first reported a 12.98 percent stake in Herbalife in February, the news drove Herbalife's stock price up 17.6 percent in extended-hours trading. Loeb's hedge fund was a beneficiary of the price spike in the first quarter.
The price of Herbalife's stock has nearly doubled so far this year. Early Wednesday afternoon, Herbalife was trading at $65.40 - up about 99 percent from its close at $32.94 on December 31, 2012.
On Monday, Herbalife reported net income for the second quarter of $143.2 million, or $1.34 per share, up from $132 million, or $1.09 per share, a year earlier.
While Soros and Ackman are on opposing sides on this particular investment, a regulatory filing in April showed that Soros had scooped up a 7.91 percent stake in ailing retailer J.C Penney, in which Ackman is a major shareholder. Like Herbalife, J.C Penney has caused big losses for Pershing Square this year.
(Reporting by Sam Forgione and Katya Wachtel; Editing by Nick Zieminski and Jan Paschal)