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Quick response to a stupid Fortune article



September 11, 2009 – Comments (3)

Fortune: Your Senior Writer, Colin Barr, should learn to read a filing or two before he screens for examples of "CEOs Selling Like There's No Tomorrow."

Barr uses FOSL's CEO as an example of a CEO who has been selling and who -- by lazy broadbrush implication further up in the article -- was buying at the bottom. Colin Barr, you ought to know better than this. If you don't, you ought to be swabbing floors instead of writing about businesses.

That article is pretty ridiculously ill-informed and slanted.  

Moronic bits like this are, to my mind, inexcusable. "It's not a very complicated story," said Charles Biderman, who runs market research firm Trim Tabs. "Insiders know better than you and me. If prices are too high, they sell."

Of course, Charles Biderman knows that the only way to get your name in the press (good for his biz) is to give the reporter the red meat quote, so he gives it, despite the fact that the reporting using it will cobble it together with other cherry-picked, context-starved data to try and sell a story that may not be true.

And remember, I'm the kind of guy who likes to bash overpaid execs whenever possible. But if that's what they're trying to do here -- and it pretty obviously is -- then my advice to Colin Barr, "Senior Writer" of this article is: DO SOME RESEARCH before you open your yap.

First of all, to pretend that insiders were all buying when stocks were down is complete hogwash. Many, like Kartsotis, were actually selling, against their will, to meet margin calls and other personal financial requirements. If Barr had cracked a filing (like this one) instead of just calling the company for a comment, he'd know this. But it's easier to ask someone else to do your job for you and just report that they didn't want to talk about it. Makes them seems seedy when in fact, the reason they didn't respond might just be that the answer is so obvious that they didn't feel the need to spoon feed a reporter too lazy or too ignorant (could it be too stupid?) to do his own job.

To get to Kartsotis:

How about we start with some context. He still owns $142 million worth of shares at the current prices. He’s sold a bunch over the past few months, about half of it to meet the debt he (IMO, foolishly) incurred by borrowing against his holdings. He actually sold much over the past year at prices in the low and mid teens.

Moreover, the guy doesn't even get paid.

From the 2009 Proxy:

      The Compensation Committee would typically establish the base salary, bonus and equity incentive awards for the CEO, Mr. Kosta N. Kartsotis. However, Mr. Kosta N. Kartsotis again refused all forms of compensation for fiscal 2008. Mr. Kosta N. Kartsotis is one of the initial investors in our Company and expressed his belief that his primary compensation is met by continuing to drive stock price growth. 

That means if he wants to buy a burger or a home, he's either selling stock or borrowing against it. (Borrowing against it didn't work out well for him in the last crash, so I suspect he won't engage in that anymore.) Don’t forget, this isn’t a startup. This company has been around a long time, and a CEO who doesn’t take pay (not even fake no pay, like Steve Jobs used to do. He doesn’t get options, nothing) is going to sell some of his stake from time to time.

Of course, he *could* still be a greedy so-and-so. But to prove that, you’ll need better evidence than Colin Barr has provided. Colin Barr of Fortune: you owe Fossil and Kartsotis an update, and maybe even an apology. You owe your readers something tougher to give: real work.


Full disclosure: I own this stock and it’s a rec of mine in HG. But those who follow me and this blog know by now that I don’t cheerlead my own stocks or CEOs. I’ll gladly hang ‘em high. But I need evidence, first.


3 Comments – Post Your Own

#1) On September 11, 2009 at 12:32 PM, russiangambit (28.81) wrote:

Let's say you hold whole bunch of a company stock, you got it granted at $25 2 years ago, the stock goes down all the way to $8-10. Now it is back $18-20, just 6 months after you were looking at 70-80% loss. What would you do if 20-30% of your net worth was tied up in the stock?

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#2) On September 11, 2009 at 2:30 PM, jddubya (< 20) wrote:

^  Isn't the $25 the price at which you have the option to buy?  Your net worth shouldn't be tied to stock options.... maybe i'm not understanding what you're saying?

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#3) On September 11, 2009 at 2:53 PM, russiangambit (28.81) wrote:

jddubya - I was using an example of an ESPP plan , where youa ctually hold the stock. Stock grants have been loosing their popularity because they lost their preferential tax treatment.

If you have a stock grant then you are correct, you have a grant price and you can normally start excercising it 2 years later over a certain period. The grants from the 2005-2007 are probably still underwater. Many IT companies people still hold underwater grants  from the Nasdaq times. When I worked at HP a  lot of peple had HPQ grants at $40-50, HPQ was trading at $20.

Whatever is the method, the same physivology applies. People almost recovered all the losses and they are very scared to loose again, so they are selling. It seems that the majority of the buyers in the market ar the people with  a very short-term focus. People with long-term focus are still remember the last year all too well. They are happy to break even and get out.

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