Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Pessimistic executives cash out of shares

By Anuj Gangahar and Michael Mackenzie in New York
Published: June 22 2009 23:36 | Financial Times

Growing pessimism about the prospects for a global economic recovery sent stock and commodity prices tumbling on Monday while new data showed that leading US corporate executives were cashing out of their share holdings at a rapid pace.

US government bond yields followed equity prices lower, confounding analysts who had expected that Treasury rates would rise this week as the federal government auctioned off a record $104bn of debt.

Analysts said the market mood was captured by a World Bank report that said the global economy would contract 2.9 per cent this year, compared with a previous estimate of a 1.7 per cent fall. A White House spokesman said later in the day that the US unemployment rate was likely to rise to 10 per cent in the next couple of months.

The downbeat commentary reinforced the view that investors should be more worried about the impact of economic weakness on corporate profits than the possibility of higher inflation and interest rates.

“We have had a great run in equities, emerging market currencies, credit and other risky assets, now people are struggling to justify lofty valuations,” said Alan Ruskin, strategist at RBS Securities. He added: “The ‘green shoots’ argument for the economy was very tentative to start with.”

Executives in charge of the largest US companies sent a signal of their concerns by selling far more shares than they bought this month, according to data based on Securities and Exchange Commission filings.

Share sales by so-called company insiders are outstripping purchases so far this month by more than 22 times. TrimTabs, the investment research company, said insiders of S&P 500 listed companies have unloaded $2.6bn in shares in June, compared with $120m in purchases.

“The smartest players in the US stock market – the top insiders who run public companies – are not betting their own money on an economic recovery,” said Charles Biderman, chief executive of TrimTabs.

The S&P 500 index fell 3.06 per cent to 893.04 – its first close below 900 this month. Analysts noted that the index closed below its 50-day and 200-day moving averages. “This is evidence that the rally since March has been a correction and not necessarily the start of a meaningful multi-year rally,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell 10 basis points to 3.68 per cent. Crude oil prices fell $2.62, or 3.77 per cent, to $66.93 a barrel.

Earlier, the FTSE Eurofirst 300 index slid 2.6 per cent while London’s FTSE 100 index fell 2.3 per cent. Emerging market equities also fell sharply, with Russia leading the retreat.

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