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What Are Insiders Doing, or Pump and Dump?

Posted by Larry Doyle on June 1, 2010 12:03 PM |

Who truly knows more about a company’s prospects than the executives running the operation? These executives, commonly referred to as insiders, are privy to sensitive, non-public information. Insiders are subject to severe restrictions in how they handle this information, and most importantly in how they manage their own finances.

Insiders selling company stock is not always an indication that the company is having problems. Insiders manage their own finances and will sell for a variety of reasons, especially for tax purposes. That said, monitoring insider activity is always prudent. Are there trends? Is activity heavily skewed in one direction or another? Is there a major inconsistency between insider activity and analyst recommendations?

In reviewing information provided by Barrons this weekend, the answers to all of these questions are yes, yes, and yes!! Barrons highlights insider activity in a number of Nasdaq companies in a weekend article entitled, Orgy of Speculation:

What leads us to talk about PowerShares QQQ (you thought we’d never get around to telling you) was Alan Newman’s CrossCurrents advisory letter, published a fortnight ago. More particularly, his survey of insider transactions in the top eight issues in the ETF. He performed the exercise on May 10 and what he discovered was rather astounding.

There were 231 sellers and three buyers, which works out to a somewhat lopsided ratio of 77 to 1. All told, the insiders sold 59.8 million shares and purchased 15,200 shares, a sell/buy ratio of 3,933 to l. Not exactly a resounding vote of confidence in the prospects for their companies.

Moreover, Alan notes, analysts are just as positive on the QQQ leaders as they were back in March 2008 before a 37% fall in price. At that time, 74.1% of the recommendations were Buys and 2.9% were Sells. As of May 10, 2010, 77.7% were Buys and 3.6% Sells. The more things change, we guess, the more things stay the same, especially on Wall Street.

Insiders are hardly infalliable investors and, as Alan observes, their investment habits are not a timing indicator. Still, they do tend to know a bit more about the company and its outlook than the analysts or the folks buying the stocks they’re so determinedly selling.

I would never blindly implicate an entire group of individuals or companies, but with insider selling ratios along with accompanying analyst ‘buy’ recommendations of these magnitudes, if you are thinking ‘pump and dump‘, you definitely have company!!


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