Ackman says Valeant likely to pay down debt in the next 18 months

The company logo of Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc is seen at its headquarters in Laval, Quebec May 19, 2015. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi

(Reuters) - Bill Ackman, Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc's third-largest shareholder, said the Canadian drugmaker will likely use its free cash flow to pay down debt in the next 18 months. Ackman said on Monday that Valeant was still his hedge fund Pershing Square's biggest holding, calling the stock an "extraordinary bargain". Valeant, which had total long-term debt of $30.18 billion as of Sept. 30, is under scrutiny for drug pricing and allegations of inflating revenue. The company's stock has plunged about 45 percent through Friday's close of $78.77, after short-seller Citron research alleged on Oct. 21 that the company had used a specialty pharmacy to inflate revenue. Ackman called the sell off in Valeant shares a result of unwarranted "fear" and "panic". The billionaire investor has backed Valeant and its under-pressure Chief Executive Michael Pearson through the crisis, but has faulted the company for a weak response to fraud allegations. Valeant will hold a conference call on Tuesday to allay investor concerns after a tumultuous few weeks for the embattled drugmaker. Ackman was not briefed on Valeant’s Tuesday call, a person familiar with the matter told Reuters. "What's important is reassuring the investors about the durability of the business," Mizuho analyst Irina Koffler said. The Canadian drugmaker is being investigated by federal prosecutors in New York and Massachusetts. Valeant Chief Executive Michael Pearson, Chief Financial Officer Robert Rosiello, Chairmen Ari Kellen and Deb Jorn, along with Corporate Controller Tanya Carro, will be on the call, which will begin at 8.00 a.m ET on Tuesday. Valeant also said it intends to host an investor day and update its annual and quarterly financial outlook before the end of the year. Shares of the company, which has a market value of $28.3 billion, were up 3.3 percent at $84.47 in afternoon trading. (Reporting by Lawrence Delevingne in New York and Ankur Banerjee in Bengaluru; Editing by Savio D'Souza and Anil D'Silva)