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AMD Execs Sold Millions of Shares Before News Boosted Stock Price

AMD CEO Lisa SuPhoto credit AMD

All too often, top corporate executives sell shares in their company just after some good news has sent the stock price on a tear. For a gaggle of leaders at computer chip maker Advanced Micro Devices, the sales came right before some good news sent the stock up about 30%.

CEO Lisa Su, CFO Devinder Kumar, and five other top executives sold over 2 million shares of AMD this month, mostly at prices under $7. Shortly after almost all of the sales, on November 15, the company announced a new cloud computing partnership with Google and the shares shot up to a high of $9.22.

That looks good for the selling executives, but in truth, they wouldn’t have benefitted much if they had waited. That’s because the sales mostly followed even larger stock awards under AMD’s executive compensation programs. So almost all of the sales were made to cover taxes owed on the vesting of the stock awards. The equivalent of money withheld from a weekly paycheck to cover taxes, proceeds of the sales benefitted government coffers more than executives’ bank accounts.

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For example, on November 2, CEO Su received over 1.5 million shares that vested as the first part of a multi-year performance stock unit program. She sold 665,414 shares two days later to cover tax withholding obligations, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Likewise, CFO Kumar got 515,102 shares via the performance plan and sold 312,469 to cover tax obligations, according to a filing.

Only one executive, Jim Anderson, who oversees the computing and graphics business unit, sold shares after November 15. But that’s because his performance stock award did not vest until the 15th. He sold over the next two days as the share prices rose rapidly. Like his colleagues, the sales were to cover tax obligations, according to an SEC filing.

Still, all of the executives kept the remaining shares granted in the performance program, totaling about 1.6 million shares. They now have big gains—at least on paper—after the stock shot up on news of the Google deal. A spokeswoman confirmed that the stock sales were to cover taxes on the vesting of incentive stock awards, but declined further comment.

Shares of AMD (AMD) have been on an incredible rocket ride since February, when they hit a low of $1.83. Even as sales of computing chips for desktop computers have slipped, AMD has made surprisingly large gains with chips in new video game consoles plus an updated line of graphic processing chips. Under the latest deal, Google (GOOGL) will install some of AMD’s highest performing graphics chips in its cloud servers for use by customers with big data tasks, such as analyzing seismic data to find oil or simulating financial markets.

Su, an electrical engineer and chip designer who took on the top job two years ago, is successfully executing her comeback plan for a company that had been all but obliterated by larger competitors Intel (INTC) and Nvidia (NVDA). Analysts had expected sales would continue shrinking in 2016, but AMD has posted $3.2 billion of net sales in the first nine months of the year, up 4%, including a 23% jump in the most recent quarter.

Su and her team could reap even bigger awards in future years if the stock continues to do well. The plan allows grants every August through 2018 of up to 250% of the shares initially awarded based on the three year performance of AMD’s shares.