The chairman and largest shareholder of Barnes & Noble (NYSE:BKS) has two options.
First, as captain of the world's biggest bookseller, he could allow his considerable investment in the company to go down with the ship. Or second, he could quietly extract his stake while assuring fellow passengers that nothing's amiss.
Which do you think he's chosen to pursue?
Leonard Riggio is abandoning ship
Barnes & Noble reported on Wednesday that Leonard Riggio sold 3.7 million shares of the company's stock. The transaction sliced his stake by almost a quarter, and leaves him with beneficial ownership of 12.1 million shares, or 20.1% of Barnes & Noble's outstanding stock.
The move, according to Riggio, had nothing to do with the ailing bookseller's prospects. It was done for estate-planning purposes, he said, adding that he has no plans to sell more stock in 2014.
"In my mind, the story isn't yet written as to where this is all going," Riggio told The Wall Street Journal a few weeks ago. "There's promise to it."
But herein lies the problem. It wasn't but five months ago that he made the same claim after cutting his stake by 2 million shares. At the time, he said it was for tax-planning purposes and announced that he didn't have "any intentions of selling more shares."
Just to be clear, I have no doubt that Riggo does indeed have considerable tax- and estate-planning issues to address. And I also have no doubt that selling his stake in Barnes & Noble would be beneficial to both.
But these objectives aren't mutually exclusive with what I believe to be his complete loss of faith in the company. If anything, in fact, they go hand in hand, as Riggio's estate would be reduced to a fraction of its current size if his position in Barnes & Noble eventually imploded with the rest of the company.
My point is that Riggio is abandoning ship. Yes, he may be doing it for tax reasons. And yes, he may be doing it for estate-planning purposes. But ultimately, he's doing it to salvage his own net worth.
Will you be left rearranging the chairs on the ship deck while Riggio slips away in a lifeboat? I hope not.