A Tesla Executive Sold Stock. It Wasn’t Elon Musk.

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A Tesla vehicle is on display at a showroom in the Aventura Mall in Miami, Florida.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Tesla investors got a small surprise Friday after the market closed, with the electric vehicle maker disclosing another stock sale by a top executive. But this one didn’t come from its CEO, Elon Musk.

Musk’s stock sales have become a big deal for Tesla (ticker: TSLA) investors, requiring them to check in daily and keep track of the CEO’s trading activity. Musk committed to selling 10% of his stake in the company, after posting a Twitter (TWTR) poll on Nov. 6 which asked if people backed the move.

When the survey was posted, that worked out to about 17 million shares. That’s a lot of stock—and large amounts of shares being bought or sold will move a company’s stock price significantly. Since the poll, Musk has sold about 7.6 million shares, including ones that were sold to pay taxes when exercising expiring management stock options. The sales have netted about $8.2 billion in proceeds.

They’ve also created an overhang for Tesla: Its stock has fallen about 7% since Musk tweeted the survey. (The S&P 500 has been flat over the same time period, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average has slipped about 2%.)

But Friday’s sale, disclosed on a Form 4 filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, wasn’t Musk offloading some of his holdings: Instead, Tesla CFO Zachry Kirkhorn sold 1,250 shares worth about $1.3 million. Kirkhorn has about 53,700 shares of Tesla stock left, which are worth approximately $61 million.

Even if Musk hadn’t sold a lot of stock recently, investors always like to track insider stock sales. As long-time Barron’s editor Alan Ableson once eloquently put it, there are many reasons for an insider to sell, but the stock going up isn’t one of them. Insider sales can be a signal that things are as good as they’ll get for a company.

Kirkhorn’s sale doesn’t fit that bill, though. The transaction is part of a Rule 105b-1 plan, which is a regulator-approved system used by corporate insiders to sell stock in a prearranged fashion so they don’t run afoul of insider trading rules. These types of plans also avoid giving the market a signal about how an insider feels about their company’s stock price. Kirkhorn’s plan was put in place back in May 2020.

This isn’t the end of tracking insider sales at Tesla. To hit Musk’s 10% self-imposed goal, he would need to sell another 9 million to 12 million shares, depending on how Musk counts the options-related sales toward his target.

Write to Al Root at allen.root@dowjones.com