Harley insiders unload stock shares

Wall Street chatter about the outlook for Milwaukee-based Harley-Davidson Inc. is heating up, sparked by the recent sale of millions of dollars of HOG stock by company insiders.

Investors typically get spooked when a company’s insiders start selling their stock shares in droves. The natural fear is that the insiders know something about the outlook of the company, and if they are cashing in their chips, they must know that the stock has peaked for the foreseeable future and will soon decline.

However, sometimes insiders sell their stock for personal reasons that have nothing to do with their perceptions about the future of the firm. And sometimes the speculators are just plain wrong.

Regardless, speculators took note when company insiders Tonit Calaway, Joanne Bischmann, John Baker, John Olin and Matthew Levatich, all Harley corporate officers, sold a combined $2.6 million in Harley stock shares on April 27.

On May 1, Harley vice president Paul Jones, directors Sara Levinson and Barry Allen and chief accounting officer Mark Kornetzke sold a combined $819,552 in Harley stock.
That’s more than $3.4 million in Harley stock being sold by company insiders in less than a week.

Harley chief executive officer Keith Wandell added fuel to the speculation when he sold $2.6 million of his Harley stock on May 6. Wandell also exercised an option on $1.1 million in Harley stock on May 6.

Keep in mind, Harley’s stock increased from $34 to a 52-week high of more than $54 per share over the past six months. After the recent speculation over the sales by the insiders, Harley’s stock value dropped to about $47 per share.

So, is Harley’s sweet ride over?

Maripat Blankenheim, Harley’s director of external communications, pooh-poohed such speculation.

“Since the beginning of the year, Harley-Davidson CEO Keith Wandell has sold 31,907 shares to cover the tax withholding on the vesting of 77,066 shares of restricted stock. He continues to hold these vested restricted shares, net of the shares withheld for taxes. Mr. Wandell currently holds 79,508 shares of common stock as well as 123,905 shares of restricted stock, totaling 203,413 shares. Employees choose to exercise options and sell shares at varying times and for varying reasons – including financial planning and portfolio diversification. The recent stock activity by company executives reflects their desire to diversify their portfolios after three years of relatively low stock prices,” Blankenheim said.

“All Harley-Davidson senior executives continue to hold more shares than are required under the company’s stock ownership guidelines. As a group, the nine executives hold 385,794 shares of common and restricted stock as well as 718,845 vested and exercisable options,” she said.

Harley’s company stock ownership guidelines require members of the executive leadership team and other senior executives to hold an interest of between 15,000 and 200,000 shares, depending on their position in the company, Blankenheim said.
Wandell is not flinching. He said the company expects to ship 245,000 to 250,000 motorcycles this year, with an increase in its sales to “outreach” customers, which include people under the age of 34, as well as women, Hispanics and blacks.

“We continue to be encouraged by the strong trend at retail and in earnings over the past several quarters. Our first quarter performance reflects the outstanding appeal of our products, the ongoing results of our transformation strategy, the efforts of our dealers and employees, and improving macro-economic conditions in the U.S.,” Wandell said.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes.

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