October 18, 2007
Apparently, I'm not alone in casting the hairy eyeball on hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of stock dumping by Countrywide Financial (NYSE: CFC ) CEO Angelo Mozilo. (Nor are some very vocal critics at various housing bubble and mortgage bubble blogs.) The Wall Street Journal now reports that the Securities and Exchange Commission is taking an "informal" look at Mozilo's pattern of selling, precisely at the time the housing bubble was deflating and his business started sagging. However, official spokespersons note that the SEC is merely checking him out as part of a wider investigation of potential insider trading within the bounds of so-called 10b5-1 plans.
These plans supposedly restrict executives from trading on insider knowledge, but not long ago, an academic study by Alan Jagolinzer suggested that by modifying these plans on the fly, executives are actually able to game their gains, holding up sales until positive news can move the stock up, or speeding up the dumping before things really get ugly.
Doesn't surprise me at all. In the past, I've written about executives whose well-timed, accelerated "diversification" or "estate planning" maneuvers just happened (so they claimed) to run ahead of lousy results, to their pocketbooks' benefit. Looks to me like the "aw shucks," son-of-a-butcher Mozilo has been doing the same thing. His suspiciously vocal, preemptive PR strike ahead of his most recent share-dumping only reinforces that conclusion.
For more on Countrywide and the housing meltdown, see