Netflix (NFLX) powered to a new 52-week high of $290.65 on Tuesday before closing the session up $21.64, or 8.1 percent, at $289.63. The surge came on the news that the company will expand its online streaming service beyond the U.S. and Canada to Latin America and the Caribbean.
We can debate the merits of the rise and views on Netflix's future elsewhere, but it's worth noting that Netflix CFO David Wells took the opportunity to exercise some stock options yesterday. According to an SEC filing, Wells unloaded 1,286 shares of NFLX at $279.99 per share, taking in proceeds of $360,067.
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While I cannot speak to Wells' motivation for selling, to the best of my knowledge, the transactions were not the type that go off automatically on some sort of set schedule, regardless of what's happening news-wise with the company. Maybe he planned this last week or last month; I certainly do not know if Wells put in the order in anticipation of Tuesday's dramatic run-up.
To be fair, Wells has been selling for quite some time, as the filings show. And if you follow NFLX, you see CEO Reed Hastings sell stock on a regular basis. In fact, it's difficult to find a week where Hastings has not unloaded around $1 million worth of his company's stock. It appears that many of the options Hastings has exercised over the last several months were set to expire by the end of February 2012.
Frankly, I'm not sure exactly what to make of the insider selling by the two leaders, who appear on Netflix's quarterly conference calls. I am inclined to have no issue with Hastings' divestitures. I would be a complete liar if I said I would not do the same thing. Most of us would jump at the chance to bank, trust, donate -- whatever Hastings does with it -- over a million bucks a week.
Wells' sale from Tuesday doesn't sit quite the same way with me. Like I said, I do not know his motivation. What I do know, however, is that investors use insider selling as one way to determine managers' confidence in their company. Hastings and Wells tend not to buy their company's stock; they sell it -- frequently. Instead, they tout the return of the company's share buyback program as a positive for investors.
If nothing else, the timing of Wells' most recent sale should give you pause if you intend to go long NFLX for the first time, near an all-time high, two weeks ahead of a quarterly report that could include discussion of earnings pressure amidst rising content costs and the just-announced international expansion.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.