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Oracle's Ellison Selling Stock: What's Going On?

Wednesday, 31 Oct 2007 | 5:14 PM ET

As high drama grips the software industry, with investors watching every detail of Oracle's hostile bid for BEA Systems , there's another drama shaping up behind the scenes involving Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. While he makes headlines for what he's trying to buy, you might be even more interested in what he's trying to sell. His stock. Selling lots of it. Daily.

The numbers are striking, even for a guy like Ellison, who sits on a $25 billion fortune, just in Oracle stock alone.

I got a call from someone telling me that Ellison has been selling some shares. Recently, a block of a million shares at $21 each. My response? Big deal. He owns 1.2 billion shares of Oracle stock. But this caller said it's not just one trade at a million shares. It's several. Three, maybe. Four?

So I asked desk producer Juan Aruego at CNBC headquarters to help me out with this, and do a quick search of Ellison's stock sales recently. And we found something pretty interesting. Turns out Ellison has been selling off 1 million shares of Oracle stock, DAILY, since Sept. 25 at prices between $21and nearly $23 a share. The sales were pre-arranged through his 10b5-1 plan adopted July 20, but still. This is real money, even by Ellison's lofty standards.

UPDATE: He sold a million more today. So the plan continues.

His holdings as of Sept. 25 totaled 1,215,659,580 shares. As of Oct. 26: 1,190,659,580. That's a sell-off of 25 million shares in a month's time, worth $544,596,500. Ellison did give a million shares, as a gift to his Medical Foundation, on Oct. 2.

All of this seems above-board, and Ellison's shares are his to do with as he pleases. The company has no official comment on any of Ellison's personal stock sales. The activity is a little unusual though. The last time Ellison sold any meaningful amount of shares was back in January: four separate sales from Jan. 10 to Jan. 16, totaling 3.5 million shares.

The difference between those shares and these shares? Those were attached to vested options, and each sale was accompanied by the explanation "option vests 25% annually on grant date." The shares this time around have nothing to do with vested options, and only carry the explanation that they are connected to the 10b5-1 filing from July 20.

So we're left with the cold hard numbers: that the CEO of the company is selling a half-billion dollars worth of Oracle shares in a month's time. I don't begrudge him the sales; I haven't found anything wrong or illegal about them. Quite the contrary, this all seems perfectly normal for a guy with Ellison's stature, and holdings.

I've talked to several people about all this. "You know Larry" comes up a lot. Another: "So what. Tiny percentage. Means nothing. Sounds like a lot, but it's lint in your pocket to him." Nice lint! Seems like a lot of people are talking about this.

Still, it's worth bringing to shareholders' attention if they weren't aware of it already; especially as Oracle tries to win its hostile bid of BEA Systems. Oracle's offer at $17 a share expired yesterday. Maybe Ellison is trying to fund a new bid all by himself.

Questions? Comments? TechCheck@cnbc.com

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