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Securities Lawyer, Market Pros On Pfizer CEO's Stock Sale: 'PR Nightmare'

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Securities Lawyer, Market Pros On Pfizer CEO's Stock Sale: 'PR Nightmare'

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) CEO Albert Bourla sold more than $5.5 million of his company's stock at nearly the same time the company announced an encouraging COVID-19 vaccine update.

While the sale doesn't appear to be illegal, the Securities and Exchange Commission likely has a set of questions that the CEO will need to answer, according to Lisa Braganca, a securities lawyer, and former SEC branch chief.

Looking At The Plan: Bourla filed for a pre-scheduled 10b5-1 trading plan back in August, so from the SEC's perspective, there is little reason to believe Bourla traded on insider information at that time, Braganca said Wednesday on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

Yet this is not sufficient evidence to conclude the "plan was based on inside information," she said. 

The SEC could examine any relevant internal Pfizer data from August to determine if Bourla's decision was influenced by any information to which he would be privy, Braganca said. 

In addition, plans can be altered after the filing, and there is no obligation on the company's end to explain any changes, she said.

"The fact that somebody has a 10b5-1 plan does not insulate them from SEC charges."

Related Link: Moderna Achieves COVID-19 Case Number For First Interim Readout: What's Next?

Adami On 'Awful,' 'Miserable' Optics: Pfizer's CEO may very well be completely innocent from a legal perspective, the optics look both "awful" and "miserable," "Fast Money" regular Guy Adami said. Pfizer's Monday announcement of what could prove to be the most important medical breakthrough in recent memory was followed up with the CEO selling part of his holdings.

Pfizer should have put in place a moratorium on all stock purchases or sales in the immediate future based on the vaccine news, he said.

"I understand capitalism and all that stuff, but optics absolutely have to play into this," he said.

Political Controversy: Bourla's stock sale could merely be a function of personal financial planning, so this shouldn't be of much concern to investors, said "Fast Money" regular Dan Nathan. But what could be a concern is the potential political fallout from the timing of the vaccine announcement after the U.S. presidential election, he said. 

Republican lawmakers could pressure the company if there is reason to believe Pfizer held back on the encouraging vaccine announcement for political purposes, Nathan said. 

Either way, Pfizer could have some form of a "PR nightmare" on its hands, he said, adding that it won't affect the stock price.

PFE Price Action: Pfizer shares were down 2.68% at $37.37 at last check Thursday. 

 

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