Global stock turmoil hits Gates share sale

Global stock turmoil hits Gates share sale

Bill Gates sold over 20 million shares of Microsoft stock last month, and turmoil in the global stock markets probably shaved a few million dollars off of the money he made.

The Microsoft chairman was still selling off the final block of shares early last week when the world's stock markets began to fall. The decline was prompted by several factors including a share sell-off in Shanghai and fears that Japan may raise interest rates.

The sale of shares by a company executive is not unusual, and the shares sold by Gates were only a small part of his total Microsoft holdings. But the sales were notable because they coincided with the downturn in the stock market.

Gates sold nearly 2 million of the shares in the last two days of February, according to regulatory filings with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). He collected notably less money per share on those two days than during the rest of the month.

On Tuesday Gates sold 990,000 shares at prices ranging from US$28.00 to $28.96, while on Wednesday he sold 1 million shares for between $27.95 and $28.24, the SEC filings show. Prior to the fall in global stocks, Gates had sold most of the other 18 million shares for more than $29 each on average, with a top price of $29.70 on February 7.

Tuesday's share sale coincided with one of the worst days the global stock markets have seen in years. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged 416 points to end at 12,216, while Microsoft's share price dropped 4.1 percent to $27.87. The company is part of the Dow index.

Market watchers have blamed the turmoil on everything from a sell-off in Shanghai shares to fears of an end to the "carry-trade" in Japan. For years, investors have been able to borrow money in Japan at almost no charge because the country maintained near-zero interest rates. Borrowers have then taken that money and invested it elsewhere, including in global stock and precious metals markets. The fear is that Japan may start hiking interest rates, causing investors to sell assets bought using their borrowed yen to repay their obligations. Japan's historically low interest rates have been designed to bolster its economy.

No one has blamed the technology sector for the sell-off in Shanghai, but the sale of shares by well-known figures can often cause investors to follow suit. Because of his position at Microsoft, Gates must file notices to the SEC when he sells shares, making the transactions public.

He collected more than half a billion dollars from the shares he sold in February, according to the SEC filings.

The filings do not say why Gates sold the shares. After the sales he remains the largest shareholder in Microsoft, with 917.5 million shares, or 9.2 percent of the shares outstanding.

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