On December 19th, with Johnston Press (JPR, 34.25p) at 12 p, prompted by non exec Ian Russell buying 800,000 shares at 12.25p, we wrote (article: “Johnston Press- option money worth spending?”)

“The jury will remain out on Johnston until the half year results in August 2009 at the earliest.  But the shares certainly won’t be trading at 12 1/4p by then. They will either be worth nothing, or above a pound.”

Nothing has happened to change that opinion. The shares have been as low as 5p, and as high as 41.5p.

One piece of news though supports our view, but is really being used as an excuse to write about Johnston Press: Mr Vickers, an Executive Director of Johnston Press,  bought 7843 shares at 25.5p on May 6th, taking his beneficial holding in the group to 97,000 shares.

So peanuts really. But positive not negative.

View on Johnston Press: Positive (no change)

Strength of signal: Weak (no change)

John Jackson, Non Exec Director of The Restaurant Group (RTN, 157p), and CEO of Jamie Oliver Holdings Limited, prompted us to reiterate our positive signal on The Restaurant Group shares when he tripled his holding on October 20th by buying 200,000 shares at 104p (‘The Restaurant Group Non Exec trebles holding‘).

In March 2008 five directors invested gbp 400k, increasing their positions by between 15 and 50%. This prompted us to view the signal from director dealings as Positive, and of high value (‘STRONG’). See our March 14th comment: ‘Consumer stocks at risk? Not TRG according to directors’.

Jackson this week (May 8th) sold ALL his holding in The Restaurant Group, 300,000 shares, at 161.84p.

This share sale causes us to take profits on The Restaurant Group.

Share performance since March 14th 2008: Shares are up 14% absolute, or up 42% relative to the index (FTSE 250).

Share performance since October 22nd 2008: Shares are up 34% absolute or 10% relative.

View on The Restaurant Group: Negative

Strength of Signal: Medium

For all comments on The Restaurant Group click here.

On October 31st we noticed a significant jump in the ratio of companies in the FTSE 350 index exhibiting share purchases by directors.

Companies in the index which exhibited net Purchases by directors (cumulative gbp50k+ in the month) vs Sales had moved from evens to as high as 10:1.  (See October 31st post: Directors ARE buying shares- Buys outnumber Sells 10:1).

Since October 31st the FTSE 350 index is up 21.5%.

Companies featuring on the followthedirectors ‘STRONG’ signal list as at October 30 2008 have outperformed their relevant stock market indices by over 10% over the period.

Over the subsequent months, the ratio of directors buys versus sells has dropped as follows:

Month            ratio of Buys to Sells in FTSE 350 index

October:               10 : 1

November       2.75: 1

December           1.3: 1

January              1.15: 1

March                  1.0: 1

April                    0.56:1

I’m not too surprised by the falls in directors share purchases,  but the latest data point showing Sells outnumbering Buys by almost 2:1 sends a clear signal, and a bit of a shiver up the spine: Directors think shares are expensive.

If we analyse directors dealings by market segment, then we find that in the FTSE 100 stocks, sells in April outnumber buys by 12:8. yet in the FTSE Small Cap index, directors appear still to be buying, with buys outnumbering sells by 5:1. This ratio hasn’t changed since October, when the ratio was similar. It jumped to 7:1 in November.

The last time we saw Buys below Sells was for the month of June 2007, when the ratio dropped from evens in May to 0.8 in June. Wasn’t that the month the stock market peaked?

We all love to see a stock market recovering, but I personally am taking some money out, and looking for signals when directors start buying again.

‘Sell in May and Go Away’? Read John Mauldins thoughts on http://www.frontlinethoughts.com/index.asp. He analyses May to October share market performance in secular bear markets. Not a pretty picture.

See also The Pragmatic Capitalist: ‘Insider Buying non existent’ [good chart here].

Forbes suggest in ‘When Insiders Sell‘ that we shouldn’t worry too much about the spike in Insider selling, that it could be down to Directors being ‘too leveraged’. [hat tip to FT Alphaville]

For our previous views on the Market, please click on the ‘Market Musings’ tab to the left of this post, or here. This is where you will find the following posts:

April 2nd: Non execs make better investors- by far.

February 4th: Directors buying interest falls away in a sideways market.

December 16th: Directors buying waned in November

October 31st: Directors ARE buying shares- Buys outnumber Sells 10:1

Source: The excellent website ‘www.Digitallook.com‘ is the source of information for the Directors Dealings Buy/Sell ratios given above.

See also Ockham Research : “Insiders are selling into the rally” (April 24th)

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Barratt (BDEV, 144p) are up 90% absolute and 60% relative since January 15th when a price of 75p catalysed my positive view: ‘Barratt- look for buying opportunities’.

We’ve just seen a few minor directors sales at Berkeley Group Holdings, with Pidgeley, Perrins and Carey selling 600,000 shares between them at 960p, reducing their holdings to a combined 6.48m shares (April 29th- source London Stock Exchange).

So these share sales are insignificant in % terms, but I consider them an indicator of a likeley ‘breather’ in the Housebuilding  sectors performance.

So I’m happy to take my profits on Barratt Developments.

View on Barratt Developments: Neutral.

John Wood Group plc (WG., 236p) have outperformed the market since directors bought shares in October 2008 (up 32% absolute, up 5% relative) and December 2008 (up 27% absolute, up 10% relative) (for the followthedirectors comments on October 28th (179p) and December 10th (185p) click here).

Last week we saw Mark Papworth, an Executive Director of John Wood Group, exercise options over 50,000 shares at 3.3p, and sell them all at 247p. (April 24th, source London Stock Exchange).

We at followthedirectors view this negatively. A sale of sufficient shares to pay for the tax liability on the options exercise would be seen as neutral. A`sale of a greater number of shares is treated as a net sale, in this case of around 25,000 to 30,000 shares. This follows 16 individual cases of share purchases since October 2008 by directors of John Wood Group.

View on John Wood Group plc: Neutral- close positive view of October 28th and December 10th 2008.

Strength of Signal: Weak

interservelogo300ppiInterserve (ISV, 203p) is a services, maintenance and building group (www.interserve.com).

In May to September 2007, Executive Directors Vyse, Jones and Ringrose exercised a significant volume of options, and sold all the resulting shares at between 496p and 526p.

Vyse has since retired, but Adrian Ringrose (CEO), Tim Jones (CFO) and Steve Dance (Exec Director) in March this year started buying shares 60% cheaper, at between 199p and 213p.

Ringrose bought 23200 shares at 213p taking his holding to 112,000 shares, Jones bought 17228 shares at 200p, taking his holding to 61,000 shares, and Dance bought 13427 shares at 199p, inititating a position. (17th to 30th March 2009- source London Stock Exchange).

They have since been followed by Exec Director Bruce Melizan, who on April 8th bought 13954 shares at 192p, initiating a position, and David Thorpe, a Non Exec, also initiated a position by buying 12793 shares at 194p on April 21st.

Conclusion

That makes all four Executive Directors and one Non Exec buying shares in Interserve. Of course this sounds very convincing, but if we look at the historical performance shown by companies we have monitored since November 2007, not so compelling.

In the seven cases where five directors have bought shares, the average relative performance has been -23%.

In the five cases where four or more executive directors have bought shares, the average relative performance is 0.84%.

Directors in these cases may have been subject to group think‘. Without qualitative analysis (interviewing all the directors) we can’t say whether this is true or not.

So history is against you. Of course the past is no indication of the future !!

View on Interserve: Neutral– could change to positive if we see more non exec purchases.

Value of signal (directors dealings)- Weak

Tomkins (TOMK,151p). this stock has run from 95p in November to above 150p now. So it is interesting to see a PDMR (senior management, but not board level) selling down his holding. Terry O’Halloran has sold 62147 shares at 147.5p, taking his holding to 363,000.

TUI Travel (TT., 255p). Another stock that is up 70% from its November lows. The Commercial Director, Will Waggott, has sold 70,000 shares at 252.27p, only a few pennies shy of where CEO James Long sold all the 828,000 shares he exercised in May 2008. The shares might start to run into a bit of resistance here.

Rotork (ROR, 844p). Carlos Elvira, the Sales and Marketing director, has a track record in his dealings:

13th May 2008, sold Rotork shares at 1146p

24th October 2008, bought Rotork shares at 664p

6th April 2009, sold Rotork shares at 818p

+ Beazley (BEZ, 99p) announced a purchase by Non Executive Chairman Jonathan Agnew of 15,000 shares at 93.77p (April 8th 2009), taking his holding to 213,000 shares. Agnews colleagues Andrew Beazley and Andrew Horton both dipped their toes in the water and bought a negligible number of shares when compared to their existing holdings back in the October slump at around 87-89p. The stock rallied to 130p, and is now back below a pound. If we see more non exec purchases we’ll look to take action.

Tim Bolton Carter, the Investment Director at Rathbone Brothers (RAT, 808p), has made a small purchase of 1000 shares at 758p (March 30th London Stock Exchange). We’ve seen only sales by directors of Rathbones for the last six months, on which we based our negative view.

But this is the first purchase, and may signal a change in sentiment within the group.

We close our negative view on Rathbone Brothers.

Note of September 25th: ‘Rathbone private client managers sell down holdings’. (1060p)

Since then, Rathbones shares have fallen 24%, which is 8% worse than the market.

View on Rathbones: Neutral

Ian McHoul, a non executive director of Premier Foods (PFD, 33p) last week sold 177,000 shares at between 34.67p and 34.75p, to take his holding to zero.

We turned positive on Premier Foods on October 21st at 32.25p, on the news that 7 directors and 4 PDMRs bought shares (followthedirectors comment of October 21st here).

It has been a bit of a roller coaster ride in this one, with the shares driven this way and that over funding concerns, trading as low as 16p and as high as 38p.

These concerns were addressed at the beginning of March, when the company raised GBP 37om net of expenses, which gives them plenty of breathing room with the debt covenants pushed out to 2013 (Independent article of 6th March).

We close our positive view as a result on the sale of shares by the non exec.

Performance since October 21st 2008: +3% absolute, -6% relative.

View on Premier Foods : Neutral

Galiform (GFRM, 19p), the UK kitchen builder and joinery company, announced last week (26th March, londonstockexchange.com) that the CEO Matthew Ingle and the CFO Mark Robson had substantially increased their holdings.

Ingle bought 870,000 shares at 15p and 17p, taking his holding to 2.7m shares, and Robson bought 403,000 shares at 17p, taking his holding to 930,000 shares.

Good news?

If you look at historic cases of two non execs and no non execs transacting, the average relative underperformance since the transaction is -8%. If a non exec joins them, then the historic performance jumps to + 16% (followthedirectors analysis of transactions of 350 directors over last 14 months-unpublished).

I got this one completely wrong in April last year, when Robson bought 132,000 shares at 77p. The stock is down 73% since then, a relative underperformance of 33% (see ‘Housebuilders at a standstill, but galiform directors buying’).

It may simply be that Galiform directors, and the share price, are playing catchup with Barratts. We saw Barratt (BDEV, 126p) directors buying shares in November and December. Barratt shares are up 69% absolute or 60% relative since our comment on January 15th: ‘Barratt- look for buying opportunities.’

I see the Galiform directors purchases as reinforcing a positive view for the housebuilding sector overall.

View on Galiform: Positive.

Reiterate Positive view on Barratt Developments.

Signal strength: Weak (would upgrade if we see a non exec buying shares)

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