A television screen displays news about the U.S. Federal Reserve’s announcement while traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S. (Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg  )

Insiders Who Nailed the Market Bottom Are Now Rushing to Sell Stocks

(Bloomberg) -- A category of investors who correctly picked the market’s bottom in December is retreating from U.S. stocks.

The number of corporate executives and officers selling shares of their own companies has doubled since December while buying dwindled. Last month, insider sellers outpaced buyers by a ratio of 5-to-1, the most in two years, data compiled by the Washington Service showed.

Insiders Who Nailed the Market Bottom Are Now Rushing to Sell Stocks

The pickup in selling comes after stocks rebounded from the fourth-quarter sell-off, lifting the S&P 500 as much as 19 percent from its December low. While analysts have warned about reading too much into insider selling because factors other than valuations can influence the action, a similar spike in January 2018 coincided with the market’s peak.

“At a price that’s much higher, people are taking the opportunity to diversify their holdings,” said Andrew Hopkins, head of equity research at Wilmington Trust Co. “Typically in the C suite, people get allocated stocks as part of their compensation” at the start of a year, he added. “It would seem to me that you’d see some of automatic selling going on.”

Company executives were one of the few groups daring enough to go bargain hunting during the market rout in late 2018. In December, they scooped up shares at the fastest pace in eight years as stocks dropped to the brink of a bear market.

Now, they’re backing away. More than 2,600 insiders dumped shares last month, up from 1,360 in December. At the same time, only about 540 executives bought, less than half the number seen two months ago.

The retreat is occurring against a backdrop of market weakness. Stocks have fallen in all but one session since Feb. 25 as concern over the global economy resurfaced. The S&P 500 slipped 0.6 percent as of 11:15 a.m. in New York, as data showed U.S. hiring was the weakest in more than a year while wage gains were the fastest of the expansion.

Selling by insiders also whipped up in early 2018. The S&P 500 peaked at a record on Jan. 26 of last year to what was then a record, before plunging into a correction the following month.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.