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Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founders, have gone 18 months without buying a single share in the company whose widely watched initial public offering turned them into overnight billionaires.
The revelation comes as Google’s shares continued their retreat from recent highs.
Data seen by the FT show that Mr Page and Mr Brin have each sold more than $2bn worth of Google shares since February 2005, when the final restrictions on post-IPO insider selling at the company lapsed.
Jonathan Moreland, director of research at Insider Insights, which provided the data, said sales by founders and other top executives were common in the months following an IPO.
However, he said “with Google, the continued selling, even after the stock has traded off of recent highs, has put it on our avoid list”.
The Washington Service, a rival insider sales service, confirmed that no Google executives bought shares in the search company during the 18-month period.
The divestitures by Google’s thirty-something co-founders were not unexpected.
In November 2004, Google said in a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission that Mr Page and Mr Brin had adopted stock trading plans that called for each of them to sell shares in Google as part of their “respective long-term strategies for individual asset diversification and liquidity”.
According to Insider Insights, the vast majority of Mr Brin’s and Mr Page’s sales were labelled as “automatic sales” on SEC forms, indicating that they were undertaken as part of a stock sale plan.
By establishing such a plan in advance, Google said the executives “sought to avoid concerns about whether [they] had material, non-public information when they made a decision to sell their stock”.
However, one governance expert said the fact that Google’s co-founders were selling shares rather than buying them could be a red flag for shareholders.
Charles Elson, director of the Weinberg Center for Corporate Governance at the University of Delaware, said: “Any time you see insiders who are strictly selling, the market has to evaluate that. If insiders are selling and not buying, it suggests they have found a place where their assets will appreciate somewhere else.”
Google’s shares have fallen more than 18 per cent from an all-time high of $475 reached in January this year.
The shares had shot up more than five-fold from their offer price of $85 at the time of the company’s initial public offering in August 2004 as Google delivered quarter after quarter of results that confounded all but the most optimistic expectations.
More recently, concerns over a possible slowdown in the company’s meteoric revenue growth and increases in capital spending have put pressure on the company’s shares. The shares fell 1.2 per cent on Friday to $381.87.
Google was not available for comment.
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