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There are many reasons directors buy and sell shares. It is finding a pattern and a track record that is key to working out whether the directors dealings you witness have any validity as a signal for investors.

I noticed some buying of BHP (BLT, 1191p) a week ago, on December 1st  by Mr A Mackenzie, who is a ‘Group Executive, CEO non Ferrous’. This was followed by  further purchases on December 3rd, 4th and 5th, amounting in total to 55,000 shares, an investment of around GBP 500k.

Mackenzie was accompanied by a Mr K Rumble, another Director of BHP, who invested about GBP 50k on December 3rd.

Looking through the BHP corporate website, I discovered that both Mackenzie and Rumble had recently been given Group Director or Executive positions, Mackenzie when he joined from RTZ in November, and Rumble in September.

BHP are very good at corporate disclosure, showing full details of their numerous Long Term Investment Plans and Share Plans on the group website.

It seems from the details of these plans, that in order to be eligible for the Group Long Term Incentive Plan, senior directors are ‘subject to a minimum shareholding requirement’ (Source : BHP Group website).

This would suggest that Mackenzie and Rumble have been buying shares in order to join the Incentive Plan, not because the shares have upside here.

I’ve just this minute been going through yesterdays regulatory announcements on the London Stock Exchange, and I find that, lo and behold, Mr A Mackenzie has been granted 225,000 ‘Performance Shares’ as part of the Long Term Incentive Plan, as well as a further 100,000 ‘Performance Shares’ as compensation for forfeited incentive awards at his previous employment (Awards granted Dec 4th, announced Dec 9th 15.28- Source London Stock Exchange). Worth him buying those 55,000 shares then!

Risks to Miners (my view):

The Australian pointed out earlier this week that the ‘China Iron and Steel Association…. wants 2008 agreements to terminate three months earlier than scheduled’. Not a good start to 2009 contract negotiations.  I guess RTZ are fully aware of the levels of volume and price the Chinese are looking for, hence their layoffs announced today.

We first heard of the Chinese delaying iron ore shipments as long ago as October 12th (see post on Mt Gibson, HSBC, China here).

It could be that when the broader market becomes more aware of the lack of growth/downturn in China in 2009, we may see another setback in equity markets, especially those with high input exposure to China.

No reason to buy BHP or RTZ quite yet.

Lets start with the good news!

We’ve closed our cautious view on HSBC (November 14th article here), with a 10% absolute return or a 20% relative return over a month. We linked directors share sales with an expected increase in negative newsflow over China’s economy, and saw the shares weaker to reflect this. Maybe this is too short term a view, especially with reports that Chinas power generation ‘in October is down 4% from a year earlier‘ (The Australian October 15th).

Allscripts (MDRX) has exhibited further director buying activity this week, with Misys non execs John King and Sir Dominic Cadbury buying 10,000 shares each at $7.23 and $7.27 respectively . This is in addition to the Allscripts CEO Glen Tullman buying 100,000 shares at $5.11 on November 4th, and Misys CEO Mile Lawrie buying 70,000 shares for $5.09 on October 27th. Allscripts are a NYSE listed company, majority owned by Misys. Allscripts shares are up 39% since our article of October 30th.

I was intrigued by Babcock, where the CEO Peter Rogers bought shares for the first time in four years this week (see ‘Babcock CEO buys shares‘). This brings to seven the number of UK engineering companies where we have seen significant director buying activity, namely Babcock, Weir Group, IMI, Senior, Bodycote, John Wood and GKN. Which brings me to the bad news.

Only a couple of weeks ago, on October 28th, Nigel Stein, CEO of GKNs Automotive division, bought 84,000 shares in the group at 100.5p, taking his holding to 209,000 shares (see ‘Head of GKN Automotive doubles shareholding‘). Then along comes another profit warning, to the effect that orders have collapsed in two divisions, one of which is Automotive, in the last seven days. The stock price fell from 107p on Thursday to close at 87.5p on Friday. If Stein doesn’t know what’s going on, who does?

Another company that loves profit warnings is Rentokil, ‘the royal rat catcher’. I suggested in ‘Rats, Ships and Rentokil’ that a share sale by the Divisional Managing Director of Asia, David Liu, might be the precursor to further negative newsflow.

Lastly, in the small cap arena, Directors of TT Electronics were seen to accelerate share purchases, buying six times as many shares in October as they had bought in the previous 12 months. The next news on TT is likely to be a pre close statement in late December. See ‘TT Electronics sees an acceleration in directors buying activity’.

News Ahead

November 19th sees IMIs Interim Management Statement. I expect this to be positive in light of recent director buying activity. But after Fridays warning from GKN, who knows.

And November 26th is the scheduled date for De La Rues Earnings release. Remember that the CEO and CFO raised about GBP 1 million between them by selling shares in mid September (‘Currency Printers Cash In’). The shares have outperformed the FTSE 250 by 17% since then. Citigroup apparently downgraded the stock last week in anticipation of falling emerging markets revenues (Guardian November 10th). I agree, I think the risks are on the downside for De La Rue.

Follow up on our HSBC call of October 12th:

Recent negative newsflow for HSBC (HSBA, 702p) is now mostly in the price.

‘The extent of the slowdown in the Chinese economy became clearer on Thursday when the government disclosed that the rate of increase of industrial production had dropped to the lowest level in seven years’ (Source- FT.com November 13th 2008).

The FT goes on to say ‘Four days after unveiling a massive fiscal stimulus programme, the government said that industrial production increased by 8.2 per cent in October – well below forecasts’.

I suspect that the market now knows much (if not all) of what the HSBC directors knew back in early October when they sold their shares (see followthedirectors comment of October 12th ‘ HSBC- Directors Sell- ‘Credit tightening’ now hitting China growth’).

In the four weeks since our October 12th comment, HSBC are down 10% while the FTSE 100 is up 9%.

For all our comments on HSBC click here.

HSBC- ‘Emerging Markets under Great Stress’

In his letter to the G 20 leaders on November 6, IMF Head Dominique Strauss-Kahn said that emerging markets were now under great stress as the “capital flows that have sustained growth dry up across the board” (Source-IMF website).

The Observer advises that investors will anxiously scan HSBCs third quarter trading statement for ‘signs the financial crisis is spreading to its Asian business‘ (Observer November 9th- Crunch Pummels HSBC again‘).

Our note of October 12th highlighted share sales by directors of HSBC (HSBA, 746p) at between 766p and 884p. We suggested that HSBCs outperformance against the other (UK) banks would come to an end as concerns over emerging markets grew. 

Since October 12th HSBC shares are down 6% absolute or down 16% against the FTSE 100.

Misys- Allscripts

The Wall Street Journal (November 5th WSJ ‘Inside Track’) picked up our story on the purchase of $350k of Allscripts (MDRX) by Misys CEO Mike Lawrie. Misys also announced that Glen Tullman, the CEO of Allscripts, had also bought shares in Allscripts, investing $511k by buying 100,000 shares at $5.11 on October 27th.

Allscripts (MDRX, $7.00) are up 26% since our comment of October 30.

Haynes – growth in DIY car care?

Since our comment of August 31st ‘Haynes directors buy for first time in 6 years‘ we have seen significant further purchases: Chairman JHC Haynes has bought 135,000 shares at between 150p and 155p, on November 3rd and 5th. Digitallook (website) say that takes him to 235,000 shares.

In Haynes’ (HYNS, 150p) First quarter Interim report to end August, the group announced they had seen sales in auto repair manuals up 10% in the US market and up 5% in the UK market (in local currency) for the quarter (for full interim statement see here, click on Press Releases). 

Next news? The interim statement in January.

International Personal Finance plc

Four directors have been buying shares in this doorstep provider of small loans in emerging markets. With their direct relationship with the borrowers, IPF (IPF 146p) are probably in a better position than the more remote large cap banks, and I suggest that the directors of the company have greater knowledge of current trading activity.

Next news is the mid December pre closing analyst briefing. See November 7th comment ‘ Loans provider Intl Personal Finance sees directors buying shares’.

Directors ARE buying shares.

Following our suggestion in last weeks Weekly Review that Directors Dealings were signalling a bottom in the stock market, we’ve looked at Directors Dealing activity in the smaller cap indices using the excellent Digitallook visual tools.

We looked at Directors dealings over one month, and counted the number of companies showing net selling of greater than GBP 50k versus net buying of greater than GBP 50k.

FTSE 350 showed 7 sells vs 52 buys

FTSE Small Cap showed 4 sells vs 21 buys, and

FTSE Aim showed 1 sell vs 46 buys !!!

 

Disclosure: The author holds share positions in the following: Misys, Haynes.

For all comments on the companies mentioned, use the ‘SEARCH’ box to the left of this post to search the followthedirectors site.

In HSBC (HSBA, 790p) I see a strong, well managed, diversified global bank, with a higher exposure to the growth markets of Asia than its (now nationalised) compatriots on the London Stock Exchange.

I notice though the first significant signs of Chinese slowdown in the announcement on Thursday by Australia Iron Ore producer Mt Gibson (MGX, 71c)  that their Chinese customers want to delay shipments.

In their statement (link to co website) Mt Gibson say ‘ Customer and iron ore sector analysis indicates a slow down in demand for iron ore in China due to current economic uncertainty and the tightening of credit facilities’.

Whose ‘credit facilities’ I wonder, the Chinese or their Western customers? 

I also notice directors share sales at HSBC, wth a DD John, a ‘PDMR’ (senior manager but not group board member) selling 61434 shares at 907p on October 1st.

Reviewing other directors sales over the past twelve months I find  sales taking place at between 766p and 884p between October 2007 and June 2008 totalling around 400,000 shares or GBP 4m.  Directors who have sold include Hughes Hallett (non exec), Almeida (non exec), Green (Chairman), Flint (CFO), and Geoghahan (CEO). For full details go to www.digitallook.com or to the HSBC company website.

I wonder how long HSBC can weather the storm that banks in the rest of the world are currently embroiled in. I think the price levels at which share sales by six directors took place are a good indicator of a medium term peak level for HSBC shares.

Signal: Negative- Directors selling

Signal Strength: MEDIUM

October 17: Anecdotal information on the Chinese economy from a contact in Hong Kong:

Second largest Chinese port shows exports down 14% since July.

40% of the Chinese toy companies are now insolvent.

Also see: ‘Credit crisis casts gloom over China’s exporters’ (October 14th, Associated Press)

For subsequent comments on HSBC (November 10th and November 14th) see here.

 

Today FT.com reports on RBS: ‘ Sir Fred Goodwin, chief executive, said the bank had been “comparatively unaffected” by turbulence in world markets and the write-down because of credit market moves would be a net £950m in the second half. This is below the £1bn to £2bn range of expectations.’

RBS

On November 12th followthedirectors reported: ‘Strong message from RBS’. ‘Five non exec directors of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) last week bought shares at between 403p and 423p. They increased their shareholdings by a significant amount, by between 25 and 150%, and put in between £40k and £495k of their own money.

I went on to comment that ‘For a bank which is supposedly sitting on possible losses of several billion pounds this is certainly interesting behaviour. It also signals to me that the market has oversold RBS in anticipation of the disclosure of these losses.’

So, friends, did the market listen to the strong message that the RBS directors were sending? Mostly, yes.

The FTSE over that period is up from 6300 to 6500, a rise of 3%

Since my report on November 12th in the am, RBS are up from 402p open, or 406p where I bought them that morning, to 493p now, a rise of 21%.

And while I’m blowing my trumpet, in the same post I suggested a switch (or short position) out of Standard Chartered and HSBC into Barclays and RBS.

If you (or I for that matter) had done this, then your long positions would be up on average 19% (RBS 21%, Barc 17%) and your short positions up on average 8% (Stan 15%, HSBC 1%), a return of 11%. Go back to my post of November 12th for director dealing driven signals that prompted this suggested trade.

Five non exec directors of Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) last week bought shares at between 403p and 423p. They increased their shareholdings by a significant amount, by between 25 and 150%, and put in between £40k and £495k of their own money.

For a bank which is supposedly sitting on possible losses of several billion pounds this is certainly interesting behaviour. It also signals to me that the market has oversold RBS in anticipation of the disclosure of these losses.

The top for RBS was signalled in March by Finance Director Whittaker, who sold almost £500k of shares in his employer at prices almost 75% higher than today.  I believe last Thursday and Fridays purchases signal a buying opportunity.

If I look at the sector overall, I find the biggest director buying in Barclays (£600k) and RBS (£2.2m) over the last 30 days. Selling has been in HSBC (Non exec Hughes Hallett almost £1m) and Standard Chartered (Chairman Davies £1.5m) both in mid October. Bothy these stocks rank amongst the best performers of the month, down only 11% and 2% over the last thirty days, while RBS and Barclays rank amongst the worst performers, bar Northern Rock, down 28% and 27% over the same period.

If I were a betting man, I’d switch out of STAN and HSBC into BARC and RBS ahead of write down disclosures below what the market now anticipates. And I’d also be looking for more news about something potentially much more serious, contagion of a US and European slowdown to Asian economies.

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