Shares of Countrywide Financial ( CFC) have surged nearly 34% this year, thanks to the booming mortgage-refinancing business. But investors in the California lender aren't the only ones gaining from its success -- corporate insiders also are cashing in. The total dollar value of insider sales so far this year already has surpassed last year's mark. As of May 8, Countrywide insiders sold a combined $32 million in company stock, compared with $21 million for all of last year, according to Thomson Financial. The stock sales followed the exercise of stock options granted to Countrywide executives over the past few years. Some traders consider heavy insider selling at a company a potentially bearish indicator because it may mean a company's executives aren't so confident about the stock's future performance. Thomson Financial, which quantifies the level of insider selling at a company -- with a 1 rating being the most bearish and 10 being the most bullish -- gives Countrywide a 3 rating. That's a more bearish rating than the ones carried by most of Countrywide's competitors in the mortgage-banking sector, according to Thomson. The biggest beneficiary of the rise in Countrywide's stock, currently trading around $69 a share, is Angelo Mozilo, the company's founder and chairman. So far, Mozilo has netted $13.6 million from stock sales, after exercising thousands of options, some of which were priced as low as $15.58 a share. In the month of May alone, Mozilo took home $5.2 million in stock sale proceeds. Already, Mozilo has made more money this year from selling company stock than the roughly $10 million in salary and bonuses he took home last year. A Countrywide spokeswoman declined to comment on any specific stock sales. But she said most company executives participate in a program "in which options are exercised and sold according to the predetermined terms of the plan."
Other than Mozilo, Stanford Kurland, Countrywide's COO, has been the most active seller of company stock. This year Kurland has netted more then $3 million from insider sales. The heavy insider selling, meanwhile, comes at a time when Countrywide executives contend their stock remains undervalued, despite the big gains in the company's share price. The stock currently trades at a multiple that is six times this year's projected earnings. The stock sales also follow an aggressive campaign this past year by Countrywide to polish its image and portray itself as a diversified financial services firm. To that end, Countrywide last November changed its name from Countrywide Credit Industries, and Mozilo marked the move by ringing the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange. Some Wall Street analysts say the heavy insider selling is an unwanted development and one that hurts the company's argument that its stock remains undervalued. But they also point out that insider selling at Countrywide is nothing new and that Mozilo still has roughly 2.7 million in unexercised stock options. Last year, according to Countrywide's proxy filing, Mozilo took home $10 million from selling shares. "Yes, it is a concern," said Mike McMahon, an analyst at Sandler O'Neill & Partners. "I'm not surprised at the consistent insider selling. But it seems to be inconsistent with their belief that the company is undervalued."