Countrywide Financial Corp. executives have sold more than $315 million in shares since August as the housing market has slowed and the subprime mortgage industry headed toward a meltdown.
The figure represents the company's highest sixth-month volume of insider trades in recent years, with Chairman and Chief Executive Angelo Mozilo selling about $95 million in stock since August and more than $35.3 million since Feb. 1, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings.
The sales far outstrip those of top brass at other Los Angeles area mortgage companies. Indeed, Mozilo's transactions coupled with a $17.5 million block sold by mortgage division President David Sambol since late summer contrast with the chief executives of IndyMac Bancorp Inc. and Fremont General Corporation who have only sold a combined $15 million in shares since 2005.
Insiders can unload shares for a variety of reasons, such as to exercise options in order to make large personal purchases, but it rarely signals confidence in a stock, something that buying large numbers of shares can do. Neither Mozilo nor Sambol have purchased any shares in the last 12 months, according to SEC filings.
Countrywide is the country's largest mortgage and subprime mortgage lender, originating $38.5 billion in subprime loans in 2006, though that only amounted to 7 percent of the company's total loan volume that year.
Sandor Samuels, Countrywide's executive managing director, told members of the Senate Banking Committee, which held hearings on the subprime industry last week, that Countrywide's subprime defaults for loans originated in 2006 may exceed the company's highest on record.
Countrywide's "worst single origination year was 2000, for which the cumulative foreclosure rate was 9.89 percent," Samuels said in a statement to the committee.
Robert Lacoursiere, an analyst for Bank of America, said the company may be at particular risk for greater defaults because of a large number of loans it made late in the housing boom.
"Late cycle subprime loan origination subjects Countrywide to increased credit risk and exposure," Lacoursiere said. "This will be through residual holdings even though they've already sold most of their subprime loans."
The insider sales also are drawing scrutiny because of past insider trading wrongdoings by Countrywide executives ahead of bad news.
Last year former Countrywide managers Alan Cao and Jun Shi settled an SEC lawsuit alleging that in 2004 the pair used knowledge of an upcoming negative earnings release to short the company's stock.
Cao paid $100,000 and Shi $40,000 to settle the suits, without admitting wrongdoing. The settlement amounts constituted their earnings plus interest and fines equal to their profits. On the day of the earnings announcement Countrywide's stock dropped 11 percent. Shi also allegedly dumped some of his company stock holdings prior to the announcement.
Countrywide's shares closed at $36.38 on March 22, off nearly 29 percent from a 52-week high of 45.26.
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