Everywhere you turn these days, you'll read another story about a massive wave of insider selling taking place. For example, a University of Michigan finance professor recently told MarketWatch that "The current message of the insider data 'is as pessimistic as I've ever seen over the last 25 years.'"
#-ad_banner-#Can you blame them? Millions of dollars in paper profits have been created for thousands of employees at public companies, and none of them want to wait around in case the market pulls back.
But even as the levels of insider selling have surged, there has also been a considerable amount of insider buying. I've pored through a few hundred recent filings to spot which companies have solid clusters of buying, and I've noted that some of the most intriguing purchases are taking place in the energy sector. (All data provided by InsiderInsights.com.)
|1. Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO)|
|It's turning out to be a tough year for companies that lease deepwater drilling rigs. A glut of rigs has led to falling lease rates, and you can see the trend in this firm's numbers. Sales peaked at $3.3 billion in 2011, and earnings per share (EPS) hit almost $7. Fast-forward to 2014, and sales will likely be nearly 10% lower, with EPS falling by half from that 2011 peak. Shares have responded in kind, moving down to multi-year lows.
Still, value investors can find great appeal with this stock. It sports a double-digit free cash flow yield (based on Goldman Sachs' 2015 and 2016 free cash flow forecasts) and trades for only 5.5 times projected earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization (EBITDA). Insiders clearly think shares are washed out: Three of them have bought a combined $300,000 in stock over the past few months at an average price of $49 a share.
|2. Occidental Petroleum (NYSE: OXY)|
|I took note of a cluster of buying at "Oxy Pete" last least year, noting that the moves came in tandem with expected asset sales in California. Some recent drilling restrictions in that state have led to some choppiness for shares. Perhaps as a vote of confidence in response, the insider buying has resumed: On March 26, company Director William Klesse acquired nearly $500,000 in stock at an average price of $94.70 a share.|
|3. AmeriGas Partners (NYSE: APU)|
|The energy sector has also seen insider buying at this propane distributor: Three of them have bought more than $700,000 in stock since early February, as shares flirt with 52-week lows. Propane distribution has been a tricky industry this winter, as tight supplies have impeded volumes.
Still, these insiders know that business conditions should return to normal in future winters. And they likely note that the dividend, which has risen for five straight years, currently sports an 8% yield. It's unclear if the cold winter will impact the near-term payouts, but the long-term dividend profile seems quite assured.
|4. Chesapeake Energy (NYSE: CHK)|
|In keeping with the energy theme, it's surprising that we haven't seen more insider buying at natural gas drillers. Even as gas prices are expected to cool from recent peaks, it's increasingly apparent that very low storage levels should keep gas prices above $4 per thousand cubic feet (Mcf), at least according to the recent upward move in futures contracts above that price point.
That should help underpin much better cash flows for producers such as Chesapeake Energy. To be sure, the company is still cleaning up the mess made by previous management, and investors will get an updated view of CHK's cash flow potential during an annual analyst day slated for May 16. Prior to that event, a pair of insiders has acquired more than $1.5 million in stock at an average price of $25.
|5. NuStar Energy (NYSE: NSH)|
|Nearly six months ago, I profiled the insider buying activity at four companies. Notably, Lionbridge Technologies (Nasdaq: LIOX) and NuStar GP Holdings (NYSE: NSH) are up more than 50% since then, while the other two haven't delivered any gains.
Despite the impressive gains, at least one insider at NuStar continues to buy shares: Director William Greehey has bought more than 100,000 shares in the past three weeks, with a dollar value in excess of $2.5 million.
|6. Swift Energy (NYSE: SFY)|
|Swift Energy was one of those two laggards in that October 2013 insider profile, though insiders are undeterred. In just the past few weeks, two of them have bought a combined 30,000 shares at an average price of around $10. The steady insider buying over the past year hasn't paid off, but the perseverance is impressive.|
Other Insider Action
Companies with heavy insider buying clusters outside of the energy space include:
Risks to Consider: Insiders are notoriously bad market timers, as seen by companies such as Swift Energy. But many of these moves provide insights into the long-term value being created at these companies.
Action to Take --> These energy firms are all working through various headwinds that have emerged in recent years, and as a result, their shares are mistrusted by most analysts and investors. Strong insider support often comes into place before the crowd starts to see these companies in a better light.