Technology > Tech Investor
Tech execs should eat their cooking
Insider buying in the tech sector recently hit a 5-1/2 year low -- here are some notable exceptions.
February 13, 2003: 4:58 PM EST
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money Senior Writer

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NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - If a friend invited you over to dinner and served up a casserole made out of unidentifiable slop, would you eat it? Maybe -- if only to be polite.

Now what if this friend proceeded to order out for pizza instead of ingesting his creepy culinary concoction?

These days, tech investors face the same dilemma. They're being tempted to gobble up beaten-down tech shares even though there is little hope of much earnings growth. Investors are being told that the capital spending outlook won't get worse (though it's not getting better) and that valuations are approaching sensible levels.

But technology executives aren't eating their own cooking. The amount of insider buying in the tech sector is woefully low. How low is it? Glad you asked.

According to Thomson Financial, tech execs only bought $8.3 million worth of shares in January, the weakest display of buying since July 1997. Meanwhile, tech insiders cashed out to the tune of $162 million.

How is the individual investor supposed to feel confident about buying decimated tech stocks if all the CEOs, CFOs and COOs aren't willing to do so?

Look who's buying

One hedge fund manager I talk to frequently says insider buying does send a strong message to investors, especially since it's not the norm in the world of tech.

"Technology executives get less compensation in cash and more in stock so there's more of an incentive to sell," said Michael Mahoney, a managing director of EGM Capital, which invests in technology, media and telecom stocks. "So if you do see a bit of insider buying going on, that is a positive sign."

For example, Mahoney says he wishes he had bought shares of telecom equipment company Andrew last summer after noticing a bunch of executives buying the stock at about $8 a share. Andrew (ANDW: Research, Estimates) wound up bouncing back to more than $12 in the fall and is still above last summer's price, at $9.27.

So who's buying now? Kevin Schwenger, insider trading analyst at Thomson Financial, says that there have been a few notable insider buys during the past few months.

In December, Activision (ATVI: Research, Estimates) CEO and co-chairman Bobby Kotick bought 400,000 shares of the video game publisher just days after the company issued an earnings warning. Seven other Activision insiders made purchases as well.

Three directors of cable titan Comcast (CMCSA: Research, Estimates) bought up a small amount of the stock in December, a month after closing its purchase of AT&T's broadband assets. Schwenger says these transactions, albeit tiny, are worth pointing out because these insiders never had been buyers before.

And last month, Loral Space & Communications (LOR: Research, Estimates) CEO Bernard Schwartz scooped up nearly 4 million shares of his company's beaten down stock, which recently traded at 38 cents. Schwartz made his purchases at prices ranging from 39 cents to 44 cents a share.

Now of course, I'm not suggesting that tech executives sacrifice their kids' college tuition payments just to make their investors feel all warm and fuzzy. But it is a tad odd to see such a dearth of insider buying considering that more and more executives are preaching the merits of the long-term view.

Note I said preach, not practice. With the Nasdaq heading back towards its early October lows, could it be that tech executives are just as scared about the short term as the rest of us?  Top of page

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