Steve Ballmer has sold more than 49 million shares of Microsoft stock worth $1.3 billion in the past several days, and plans to sell a total of 75 million shares by year's end. Does he know something we don't?
Reuters reports that the sale cuts his stake in Microsoft by about 12 percent, and that if he sold a total of 75 million by year's end, it would mean a reduction of 18 percent.
To squash rumors that the sale has anything to do with Ballmer leaving Microsoft, he released a statement which said:
"Even though this is a personal financial matter, I want to be clear about this to avoid any confusion. I am excited about our new products and the potential for our technology to change people's lives, and I remain fully committed to Microsoft and its success."
But when you're head of a company whose stock price has been stagnant for a decade, and there have been rumblings from those who want you to leave, it's inevitable that people will wonder about the timing of the sale.
Ballmer hasn't sold Microsoft stock in seven years, and the sale came just days before the launch of Windows Phone 7, which could be a make-or-break product launch. The future is clearly mobile, and given the success of both the iPhone and Android phones, this may be Microsoft's last chance in that market.
Like it or not, when a company CEO sells such a substantial amount of stock just before one of the most important product launches in the company's recent history, people will wonder whether there's a link between the two.
It's exceedingly unlikely that there's a direct link, though. And Ballmer is one of the most competitive people in the business world, so it's also unlikely that the sale means he's planning on leaving the company any time soon.
Still, the timing of the sale isn't good, news about it is hitting the same day as the Windows Phone 7 product launch, and will compete for headlines. And it's inevitable that people will make a connection between the two events.
As for me, I don't expect the sale means Ballmer is leaving. It's just another example of his tone-deafness when it comes to public relations.