Well, Steve Ballmer certainly had a productive week.
Over the past three days, the Microsoft CEO has sold 49.3 million shares of his company stock, Reuters reports. With the share price hovering around $27, the sale has made him about $1.3 billion. Not bad for three days.
And he’s not done yet. Ballmer apparently intends to sell as much as 75 million of his shares in total by the end of the year. At the current prices, that would earn him about $2 billion, all told.
Microsoft and Ballmer are both quick to say that people shouldn’t read too much into the massive stock sale. He called the move a “personal financial matter,” in a statement. But that won’t stop most from doing just that. As The Next Web wonders, why is Ballmer selling these shares right now with two buzz-worthy products, Kinect and Windows Phone, just hitting the market in time for the holiday shopping season? Does he not think they’ll help propel the company’s stock price?
Truth is, despite their huge financial success, not much has helped moved the company’s stock price over the past decade. In November of 2000, the share price was in the $30s. The highest it has gotten in that span is just about $37-a-share almost exactly three years ago. The price has gone as low as $15-a-share, but that was during the most recent economic collapse. Microsoft did split the stock in February of 2003.
Compare that stock performance to rival Apple, which has gone from around $7-a-share a decade ago, to $317-a-share today.
Others will wonder if this means Ballmer is on his way out as CEO. Again, despite the bottom-line success, there have been no shortage of calls for his ouster, partially because of the success rivals like Apple and Google have had during his tenure. “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,” was Ballmer’s statement on the matter.
But one important thing to consider is the up-in-the-air issue of the capital gains tax. The likelihood is that it’s going to stay largely the same but go up a bit next year, but it could go far higher as the Bush-era tax cuts are set to expire at the end of this year. And when you’re talking gains in the billions of dollars range, that’s a lot of money Ballmer could lose if he’s not smart about his investments.
This news also comes just a month after it was revealed that Ballmer earned only 50 percent of his yearly bonus in Microsoft’s last fiscal year. Despite huge numbers for the year, Microsoft performance in mobile and tablets — or lack thereof — knocked his million-plus bonus down to about $670,000. But that’s chump change compared to what we’re talking about here, obviously.
And despite the massive sale, Ballmer will remain the second largest shareholder in the company behind only Bill Gates. He currently owns a little over 4 percent of Microsoft, compared to Gates’ 7 percent. That means on paper, Ballmer has been worth about $10 billion. And now he’s converting a nice chunk of that to cheddar. Ballmer. Baller.