The reports drive analysts like Carl Reichard nuts. Reichard, a home building equity research analyst at Wachovia Securities in San Francisco, sees the reports of insider selling as an overreaction. He notes that virtually all of the selling has been by people who are, even after the sales, still heavily invested in their companies. "Public home builders are still fairly deeply owned by the founders who launched the companies," he says. "As long as the founders and chief executives still have a significant portion of their wealth invested in their companies, you can't begrudge them taking some earnings now."
Centex Corp., of Dallas, is a public builder that is not primarily owned by its founders, notes Reichard, and that is one company where insiders are buying.
Still, the selling raises eyebrows. NVR CEO Dwight Schar sold $97 million worth of NVR stock since May, according to SEC filings compiled by Edgar Online. With NVR stock trading at well over $400 a share, it might be hard to fault Schar's business instincts.
A host of other builder CEOs and other officers have also cashed out a portion of their holdings. D.R. Horton senior vice president, James Schuler, sold 2.4 million shares of Horton stock to the tune of $63.2 million. Robert Toll sold 1 million shares of Toll Brothers stock worth $37 million between May and August. Ara Hovnanian, CEO of Hovnanian Enterprises, sold 300,000 shares worth $19 million, with family members and some directors also taking profits during the summer period. And at Atlanta's Beazer Homes USA, CEO Ian McCarthy -- among other Beazer officers who cashed out Beazer holdings -- has sold $9.5 million worth of Beazer shares since June. CFO Bruce Gross is sanguine. "People sell stock because a very large percentage of our compensation is from stock options and restricted stock," he says. He adds that the inside sellers still hold a significant amount of stock.