Sheryl Sandberg sold nearly 1 million shares of Facebook stock worth $26.2 million last week, according to an SEC filing Friday, marking her biggest sell-off to date by far.
The Facebook COO has been offloading her shares in small batches since the beginning of November, selling 353,000 shares on Nov. 2, 176,000 shares on Nov. 8 and 176,452 shares on Nov. 20. In total, Sandberg has now sold off 1.65 million shares worth about $41.5 million. If you factor in the additional 429,184 shares she donated to an undisclosed recipient in the beginning of this month, Sandberg has now reduced her stake in the company by more than 2 million shares.
While these numbers might sound large, they still represent just a small fraction of Sandberg’s Facebook shares. Sandberg currently has some 18.7 million shares of Facebook stock. What’s more, VentureBeat reports that the latest sell-off was triggered automatically by Facebook stock reaching a certain price threshold, suggesting that it nothing to do with Sandberg’s faith in the company’s long-term potential.
Still, whenever a high-ranking executive at a public company sells shares, it can be cause for concern among investors.
“Under any circumstance, it is sub-optimal for a director of a public company to sell shares. Period,” said Brian Wieser, a senior analyst at Pivotal Research Group.
Apparently recognizing this, several key figures at Facebook have gone on record saying they will not sell their shares in the short-term. Facebook’s CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg pledged in September not to sell any shares for at least the next year. At the same time, two members of Facebook’s board of directors — Marc Andreessen and Donald Graham — promised not to sell off any shares beyond what they need to cover taxes.
These announcements came shortly after Peter Thiel, another prominent member of Facebook’s board, sold off the majority of his 26.2 million shares of Facebook, pushing the stock price down to a new low.
Facebook’s CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg sold off a batch of shares on the day of the IPO, but pledged in September not to sell any more of his shares for at least the next year. The commitment of Zuckerberg and others to not sell helped bring the stock back — but Sandberg never made such a commitment herself.
While Sandberg’s sell-off has been much more modest than Thiel’s, Wieser says the concern is whether it means Sandberg’s interests as an investor are still aligned with those of other Facebook investors. For the time being, though, Wieser isn’t particularly worried considering that Facebook’s stock is trending upwards.
“Clearly, on an individual level, it’s a meaningful amount of money, so you’re hard-pressed to begrudge someone on a practical level for that,” Wieser said. “As long as it’s not that she sold and then the company is tanking. This doesn’t read as her losing confidence in the company.”
Even so, Wieser argued that Facebook and Sandberg should put out an explanation about what her selling plan is — something as simple as “doing this for personal financial planning” — just as a matter of good corporate governance.
Image courtesy of Flickr, World Economic Forum.