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When Activision's Director Sells, Investors Should Pay Attention

By Perry Rod, Published: September 18th, 2011 6:30 AM CDT

Brian Kelly, Activision Inc.'s (NASDAQ:ATVI) Co-Chairman, sold about 1.6 million worth of Activision stock from exercised options last week.  This was reported in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission late Friday after regular trading.

Kelly's timing for stock sales has been impressive and even slightly better than well known CEO Robert Kotick over the years. Kelly sold a higher percentage of his large stake of his shares near Activision's top price of around $17 in 2008. He has also been the top insider in terms of percentage held, above the CEO (Kelly's sales since 2008 are worth over 300 million). In this recent sale, half of the options he executed were expiring in 2015 and 2016. It is fair to say he is likely not desperate for cash. He sold for as low as $11.48 and the stock closed Friday at $12.14. His timing for the sale may be suspect since it comes prior to the 4th quarter where nearly 70% of Activision's earnings per share (eps) is supposed to come in, and prior to a following year which analysts expect 18% growth. The last time there was a sale this big, he and Kotick dumped shares at a similar price two years ago. It was good timing since the stock has been flat for two years while the market is up around 20 percent.  Kotick is apparently not dumping with him this time (unless his sales are to be reported next week), but that could be because Mr. Kotick wants to keep his position and the perks that come with being CEO. His standing with the board of directors will be higher with a comfortable insider position. Kotick's remaining shares are still only around 10-15 percent of of his peak position.

Insider sales are often under appreciated by the general market. If Activision's top insider sells here when the stock is not even performing well, it suggests that things may not be as rosy as analysts expect.  Internal projections may be weaker than what analysts expect. If they were strong, would Mr. Kelly be be selling at 15X eps and 13X future eps with $2.50 cash in the bank (or 10x future enterprise multiple)?  That does not make sense, especially for a man who has made a fortune from trading this stock.

Disclosure: author holds no position in Activision

Related: ATVI

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