Amazon CEO Bezos’ Stock Trade Questioned

Amazon.com chief executive officer Jeff Bezos sold about 1 percent of his personal stock holdings just before the release of a blistering analyst report that Amazon had advance access to, according to a newspaper report.

Bezos informed the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) in early February of his intention to sell about 800,000 shares of Amazon stock, valued at about US$12 million. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported on Saturday that Bezos sold the stock in two batches of about 400,000 shares each on February 2nd and 5th.

On February 6th, Lehman Brothers analyst Ravi Suria released a report raising the possibility that Amazon would face a credit crunch by year’s end as it burned through working capital.

The newspaper quoted Amazon spokesman Bill Curry as saying the company had been given an advance copy of Suria’s report “several days” before it became public.

“There just isn’t any connection,” Curry told the newspaper.

Blackout Period Ended

Curry also indicated that the timing of Bezos’ stock sale had more to do with the release of the company’s quarterly earnings report. Company policy prohibits trades until three days after earnings results are announced.

Bezos’ first sale came on the first day of open trading for Amazon insiders following the company’s fourth quarter earnings report, which also contained news of 1,300 layoffs, a warning of slowing growth and a pledge for profitability by year’s end.

Amazon dismissed Suria’s report, calling it “filled with errors.” Curry reportedly pointed out later that the company’s stock actually rose in price on the day it was released.

Tight Grip on Stock

Like many Amazon insiders, Bezos has mostly held his stock during the past year. In fact, according to insider trading data compiled by First Call, Bezos’ last stock action was a gift of 40,000 shares that he gave away last November.

Prior to that, his last filing was in May, when he filed for the sale of 380,000 shares, which then carried a value of more than $20 million.

Tense Relationship

Amazon has had a tense relationship with stock analysts in recent months. Last year, Bezos used a fake $1 billion bill to emphasize the e-tailer’s strong cash position after an analyst questioned whether the company would run out of capital.

Just last week, Prudential Securities’ Mark Rowen rated Amazon stock a sell, a rare label for the company on Wall Street. About half of the analysts who cover the e-tailer rate the stock a “buy,” while another 40 percent say investors should hold onto their stakes in the company for the time being.

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