Do you believe in the wisdom of crowds? In the stock market, the mob is often pretty stupid — but when the crowd consists of company insiders, you may want to pay attention.
In the course of the market swoon and then recovery of the past 15 months, many corporate officers and directors in the Nashville area have let their money do the talking by buying or selling their publicly traded companies’ shares.
It can be argued, however, that even more have made a collective statement about their businesses, the stock market’s direction and the economy’s future prospects by the simple fact that they have done nothing when they could have bought into their companies on the cheap.
A Nashville Post analysis of insider behavior during the crash and the ongoing comeback, as revealed by required disclosure filings, shows that only a few local firms received votes of confidence from their leaders during the darkest days of the share-price collapse last winter. Moreover, with prices recovering but most companies still trading below pre-crash levels, few insiders have decided to buy in recently. Instead, many have cashed in parts of their holdings, with the cumulative amount of sales in the past six months topping $30 million.
Many factors can drive an individual executive’s or board member’s decision to sell shares. It is known, for instance, that at least a few of the sellers who helped ring up that $30 million figure have children in private schools or universities and sold stock to cover tuition costs.
Just about all of the sellers would have watched their net worths dip deeply during the worst of the market meltdown, and it would be only natural for them to be newly aware of the need to keep their portfolios diversified by paring their stakes in the companies they work for. Some may have needed to liquidate assets in order to meet margin calls from their stock brokers. In other words, you can’t read too much into any given insider sale.
Yet as this chart shows, the pace of selling has been brisk of late, while the pace of buying has been anemic (with one notable exception, which is described below). And the chart shows only the companies that have had significant insider activity in the past six months; numerous others have had little or no activity. There’s no way to prove that the wave of selling and the paucity of buyers signals a general expectation that the market boomlet of recent months has run its course, but that interpretation does seem reasonable.
The overall behavior of insiders may suggest a depressing conclusion, but within the data are some impressive individual stories. We glean from the filings, among other observations, that:
• Psychiatric Solutions Inc. CEO Joey Jacobs and four fellow insiders called the bottom of their stock’s gyrations just about as exactly as humanly possible. The first week of March 2009, when they put down $746,000 in personal funds on PSYS, saw the stock hit a low of $12.49. The stock has recently been changing hands north of $21, more than 60 percent higher.
• Any investor who looked at last summer’s sales by NHI insiders Roger Hopkins, Rob McCabe and Robert Webb as cause to bail out or short the stock has ended up out of the money. Those sellers cashed in a total of $1.2 million worth of NHI shares in the course of three weeks in July and August at prices between $30 and $33. But NHI recently has traded above $36, well past its pre-crash highs in 2008.
• Mapco convenience mart owner Delek US Holdings Inc. stands out from other local stocks in both the trajectory of its stock price and the enthusiasm insiders have recently shown for their company’s stock. Delek has taken a beating lately on Wall Street, with its stock price falling back to single digits after peaking at $12.41 in April of this year. A director, a 10 percent stockholder and two affiliate companies of Delek, all based in Israel, have spent $2 million on stock purchases carried out in August, September and earlier this month.