On Feb. 11, Moderna CEO Stephane Bancel sold 10,000 shares of company stock, valued at $1.8 million in total. By the following day, Bancel’s Twitter account, had disappeared without warning.
Observers on Twitter found the relationship between these moves suspicious. In reality, the sale was part of Bancel’s previously-made plans to sell stock over time. Bancel last modified these stock-sale plans in May 2021. The sale is a tiny part of his holdings. At this rate it would take Bancel 16 years to sell all of his shares.
The SEC filing reporting the sale notes that the transactions were made in accordance with Rule 10b5-1 of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934. That regulation allows company insiders to sell shares at predetermined times. They are a very common way for executives to avoid appearances and accusations of illegal insider trading. This sale was part of Bancel’s 10b5-1 plans that date back to December 2018 and were modified in September 2019 and May 2020.
Bancel has been steadily selling off shares of Moderna stock since late 2019, before the covid-19 pandemic arrived and before the company’s announcement that it was developing a mRNA vaccine. Before the pandemic, the company‘s market value was around $6.5 billion, it’s now $65 billion after reaching as high as $195 billion in August 2021. The value of Bancel’s holdings are driven by this rise and fall—not his trades. He still owns more than 21.8 million shares of Moderna stock valued at $3.5 billion and remains the largest insider shareholder.
Filings also show recent sales by Moderna’s chief technical operations and quality officer Juan Andres and chief financial officer David Meline. Those documents indicate that the sales were made automatically to cover the taxes on stock that was given as pay.
This isn’t the first time Moderna leaders have garnered public scrutiny for cashing in on company stock. Between January and August of 2020, Bancel sold $38 million worth of stock. These sales came in the midst of positive announcements about Moderna’s development of a covid-19 vaccine and the progress of vaccine trials. This raised suspicions that the trades were made based on confidential insider information, which would be illegal.
Reporting by NPR found that on several occasions, Bancel and others amended their 10b5-1 plans just before stock-moving announcements. Still, Moderna’s Chief Corporate Affairs Officer Ray Jordan told NPR that Moderna execs didn’t have “material nonpublic information” when they made changes. Bancel did not make any changes to his 10b5-1 plan ahead of the Feb. 11 sale.
The success of Moderna’s mRNA vaccine has also provided cover for the planned sales. In many cases, executives would have made more money had they waited longer to sell or continued to hold them today. In 2020, the company was valued below its current level.
There’s still no word on why Bancel deleted his Twitter account. We’ve contacted the company for comment and will update this story, if they provide an explanation.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the value of Bancel’s sales in the headline.