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Pfizer CEO joins pharma executives selling stock in rally

Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer, sold more than 130,000 shares on Monday, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
Albert Bourla, chief executive officer of Pfizer, sold more than 130,000 shares on Monday, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press

Pfizer Inc. chief executive Albert Bourla pocketed about $5.6 million after selling stock, the latest executive to reap the rewards of insider share transactions amid a vaccine-fueled rally for some pharmaceutical companies.

Bourla disposed of more than 130,000 shares on Monday, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Sally Susman, executive vice president and chief corporate affairs officer at Pfizer, also offloaded about $1.8 million in stock.

Pfizer’s shares soared that day after a report on results from its experimental vaccine with partner BioNTech SE. Anthony Fauci, the top US infectious-disease specialist described the findings as “extraordinary” and regulators on both sides of the Atlantic could clear the vaccine for emergency use imminently.

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Both executives' sales were done under prearranged 10b5-1 trading plans, which let people schedule sales in advance at certain times or prices, absolving themselves from accusations of insider trading. Public-company executives typically receive a considerable share of their compensation in the form of stock, and the vast majority periodically sell part of their holdings.

A Pfizer spokeswoman said the sales were part of the executives' personal financial planning. Bourla authorized the sale in August and Susman in November 2019, provided the stock reached a certain price.

Still, some governance watchdogs criticize executive sales generally, and trading plans in particular, asking why bosses would dispose of stock if they think the price might be higher in the future. Moderna Inc., for example, has received scrutiny as executives sold large amounts of stock throughout the spring and the summer.

Moderna’s CEO Stephane Bancel has sold more than half a million shares this year, but the value of his stake has swelled as the stock has rallied more than 300 percent in 2020. Moderna is also slated to release its own late-stage COVID-19 vaccine data sometime this month that could push prices higher.

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