U.S. vaccine executives profit on stocks: media

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NEW YORK, Feb. 18 (Xinhua) — Executives and directors at Pfizer Inc., Moderna Inc. and other companies developing COVID-19 vaccines sold approximately 496 million U.S. dollars of stock last year, reaping rewards of positive vaccine developments that drove up the value of the drugmakers’ shares, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.

Executives and directors at the same 13 companies sold about 132 million dollars of stock in 2019, according to insider transaction data from research firm Kaleidoscope. More than 8.5 million shares were sold last year by insiders at these companies, compared with 4.7 million shares in 2019.

“In dollar terms, much of the sales came at a single company, Moderna, maker of one of two COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the U.S.,” said the report. Executives and a director there sold more than 321 million dollars of their stock in more than 700 transactions.

Merck & Co. insiders sold 58 million dollars of their shares. At Novavax Inc., executives sold more than 40 million dollars of their shares after the company’s vaccine hit milestones in August and September.

Merck, which last May said it was pursuing two vaccines, scrapped those efforts last month after data showed disappointing immune responses. Novavax announced positive results of its clinical trials last month.

Some of the sales toward the end of last year have drawn the attention of government officials, with the then-head of the Securities and Exchange Commission calling for new restrictions on the trading plans under which many of the sales were made.

Corporate compensation experts say these kinds of sales are the natural consequence of a long-term shift to using stock for a greater share of executive pay, with the goal being to tie pay to performance — in this case the development of lifesaving vaccines.

Top company officials, like other investors, may be disinclined to leave profits on the table, as long as they adhere to insider-trading rules, some consultants say.

“This is behavior that I would expect to see in most of these companies,” said Ben Silverman, director of research at InsiderScore, which analyzes transactions by corporate insiders.

While Silverman described some of the selling as aggressive, he said it wasn’t unusual, particularly for young companies like Moderna whose executives have seen the value of their holdings jump dramatically. Enditem

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