Friday, April 24, 2009

Watch the rats...

By Michael Tsang and Eric Martin
April 24 (Bloomberg)

Executives and insiders at U.S. companies are taking advantage of the steepest stock market gains since 1938 to unload shares at the fastest pace since the start of the bear market.

While the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index climbed 26 percent from a 12-year low on March 9, CEOs, directors and senior officers at U.S. companies sold $353 million of equities this month, or 8.3 times more than they bought, data compiled by Washington Service, a Bethesda, Maryland-based research firm, show. That’s a warning sign because insiders usually have more information about their companies’ prospects than anyone else, according to William Stone at PNC Financial Services Group Inc.

“They should know more than outsiders would, so you could take it as a signal that there is something wrong if they’re selling,” said Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC’s wealth management unit, which oversees $110 billion in Philadelphia. “Whether it’s a sustainable rebound is still in question. I’d prefer they were buying.”

That’s the fastest rate of selling since October 2007, when U.S. stocks peaked and the 17-month bear market that wiped out more than half the market value of U.S. companies began. The $42.5 million in insider purchases through April 20 would represent the smallest amount for a full month since July 1992, data going back more than 20 years show. That drop preceded a 2.4 percent slide in the S&P 500 in August 1992.

They’re going to say, ‘Thank you very much,’ and move on to cash or something else,” said David W. James, who helps manage about $2 billion at James Investment Research Inc. in Xenia, Ohio. “This is not a situation that suggests to us we’re seeing an economic recovery.

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