Executives at U.S. banks, apparently anticipating a downturn in bank stocks, continued to sell their companies' shares at high levels in the past month.
Insiders at money-centers, superregionals, and regionals alike shed their shares, said Robert Gabele, president of CDA/Investnet, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla., company that tracks insider buying and selling. The prolonged bull market has convinced many executives that prices are set to go lower, he said.
The American Banker index of the 225 largest publicly traded banks has risen an impressive 29% this year.
Banks with high rates of insider selling include J.P. Morgan & Co., Chemical Banking Corp., Integra Financial Corp., First Interstate Bancorp, and Huntington Bancshares.
"Overall insider trading figures, for all industries, are turning greatly bearish," Mr. Gabele said. "There is a lot of selling among the larger banks. And while there is some accumulation among smaller banks, it is not the same pace of accumulation we have seen the last few years."
After more insider buying than selling for much of the year, executives began to sell their shares as the summer approached. Last month selling reached its highest level at any time since 1990, when many banks appeared to be on the verge of ruin.
At J.P. Morgan, insiders exercised options in late July on 202,957 shares, and sold 176,414 of them. The bank's stock price has risen 29% this year.
J.P. Morgan chairman Douglas Warner exercised an option on 41,847 shares on July 17, and sold 94% of them. Roberto Mendoza, a director, exercised an option on 124,378 shares, and sold 101,049 shares.
At Chemical, insiders sold 73,079 shares on July 21. Donald McCouch, a director, sold 40,735 shares, and William Turner, a vice president, exercised an option for and sold 31,917 shares. Chemical shares have risen 47% this year.
Of the money-centers, only Bankers Trust New York Corp. has bucked the trend, as insiders have been gobbling up shares. But Bankers Trust has also bucked the bull market, as heavy derivatives losses had driven the company's share price down for much of the year.
At First Interstate, insiders sold 26,050 shares in late July. Former chief executive Edward Carson sold 10,000 shares.
Huntington insiders sold nearly 26,000 shares in late June. And First Commerce Corp. chairman Hermann Moyse sold 70,000 shares, reducing his holdings by 13%. Star Banc Corp. director Oliver Waddell sold 80,000 shares, or 40% of his holding.
Insiders continued their selling at Integra, a Pennsylvania regional many analysts consider a prime takeover candidate. The persistence of the selling would indicate insiders do not think their company is set to be sold. Executives exercised options on 18,059 shares in July, and sold them all.
The selling was not universal. At Liberty Bancorp., a $2.6 billion-asset bank in Oklahoma considered likely to be taken over, insiders exercised options on 16,093 shares, but held on to nearly half of them.
The company's chief financial officer, Mischa Gorkuscha, exercised an option on 2,793 shares, selling 1,000 of them to help pay for the transaction.