When we reported that insider share buying outpaced selling by the widest margin in eight years during the eighth quarter, we facetiously stated that the indicator could portend a rebound for US shares (which have fallen further during the first sessions of the year). But now we have a better explanation: As buying by other insiders climbed during Q4, Mark Zuckerberg simply halted sales of his Facebook stock - making it the first quarter in more than two years where he refrained from selling.
As Zuck's programmatic selling of his shares was put on pause, Facebook endured a 20% drop during the quarter as new revelations about the company's policy of blithely sharing user data, as well as its targeted PR attacks on billionaire George Soros compounded the myriad scandals that had already rattled the firm this year.
Thirty-four-year-old Zuckerberg said back in September 2017 that he would sell between 35 million to 75 million Facebook shares over an 18-month period to fulfill his pledge to give away nearly all of his fortune during his lifetime. Since that time, Zuckerberg has sold about 30.4 million shares worth roughly $5.6 billion, according to Bloomberg.
Zuck's insider selling was scheduled in advance according to what's known as a 10b5-1 trading plan. However, these plans often include restrictions on price and volume limits that could temporarily halt sales.
Facebook shares have shed 38% over their value from a record high of $218.62 reached on July 25 as Facebook struggled with twin scandals pertaining to its lax data privacy efforts and its failure to stamp out fraudulent accounts intended to tamper with elections (including the 2016 election).
As of Wednesday, the hit to Facebook stock has destroyed $32.7 billion of Zuck's net worth, leaving him in seventh place on the Bloomberg Billionaire's Index.
Insiders from Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google parent Alphabet - all of whom, like insiders at every other publicly traded company, must disclose their sales and purchases of company stock - sold about $7.1 billion of stock last year, the most since 2016, when they sold $10.7 billion.
As we've said in the past, insider buying can be a bullish indicator for shares since it suggests that executives might be loading up in anticipation of another round of corporate buybacks, allowing them to quickly flip the stock for a profit. And apparently, Zuck only sells at the highs. Which begs the question: will the halting of his stock sales portend a rebound for Facebook in the quarters to come, or does it simply mean that Zuck will be the ultimate bagholder on the way down?