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Markets Insider

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have sold $20 billion of Tesla and Amazon stock this year as insider sales soared to a record high

By Harry Robertson,

Jeff Bezos (left) and Elon Musk (right) have been selling their companies' stock. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/Axel Springer

Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have sold just shy of $20 billion of their companies' shares between them so far this year, as stock sales by CEOs and insiders soar to a record high.

Musk has now offloaded $9.9 billion worth of stock in electric-vehicle maker Tesla, after selling a $1.05 billion chunk at the end of November.

Bezos' sales have been more under the radar. But the Amazon founder and chairman has now shed $10 billion worth of shares in the e-commerce and cloud-computing leader, according to data from Verity that was first reported by CNBC.

The trades by the two multibillionaires have helped push the total for CEO and company-insider sales to a record $69 billion in 2021, even before the year has finished, the data showed.

Sales are up almost one-third compared with last year's tally, and are almost 80% higher than the 10-year average, according to investment research and data company Verity, previously called InsiderScore.

The Walton family has disposed of $6.2 billion in Walmart stock this year, while Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin have each sold roughly $1.5 billion worth of shares in Alphabet. Mark Zuckerberg has sold $4.5 billion of Meta stock.

Most of the stock trades were part of pre-scheduled plans. But Verity said many insiders and CEOs are no doubt cashing in on the dramatic rise in stocks during the pandemic.

The S&P 500 has risen 23% in the year to date, and is up around 95% since the stock-market crash of March 2020, when the pandemic hit. The US benchmark was even higher just a week ago, before the new Omicron coronavirus variant spooked investors.

Tesla stock has climbed 55% so far this year and is up more than 1,100% since that March sell-off as of Wednesday, when it closed at $1,095. Investors are betting that Musk's company can lead the global green revolution in cars.

"Another factor is the significant increase in the number of public companies over the past few years, thanks to the SPAC craze, and a robust IPO and direct-listing market," Ben Silverman, director of research at Verity, told Insider.

Company insiders are also selling to cover taxes, Silverman said. Musk in particular faces big tax bills if he exercises stock options that he was awarded in 2012, when Tesla stock traded at around $6.

A good portion of the Tesla CEO's stock sales so far this year — which began after he posted a Twitter poll asking whether he should offload 10% of his stake in the company — have been to cover taxes after exercising options.

Ark Invest boss Cathie Wood told CNBC Wednesday that Musk "has massive tax bills associated with options and so forth, so he has every right to take profits."

And venture capital executive Chamath Palihapitiya has said that Musk and Bezos selling stock has made him wonder whether he should also be exiting the market.

"Two entrepreneurs who I've considered to be the smartest capital allocators of our generation are taking chips off the table," Palihapitiya wrote in a recent letter to investors.

He said on his podcast he is "totally confused" about what to do in the market right now, given that assets are at record highs but inflation is rampant.

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