Tesco executive sold shares before profit warning

City A.M. Reporter
Tesco's UK operations chief sold stock just over a week before a profit warning sent shares in the world's third-biggest retailer plunging, a regulatory filing shows.

Noel "Bob" Robbins, UK chief operating officer, sold 50,000 shares at 404.51 pence apiece on 4 January, netting around £202,000, according to a filing published on January 5.

That was eight days before Tesco reported its biggest drop in underlying British sales for decades, and three days before the end of the period covered by its trading statement.

"Bob Robbins sold less than five per cent of his substantial shareholding in Tesco for necessary family expenditure," a Tesco spokesman said, adding the sale was not made in a period restricted by regulatory rules.

"We are confident that Bob was not in possession of any price-sensitive information at the time the sale was approved."

Thursday, Tesco said investment to improve its British business would hit profits in its 2012-13 financial year, sending its shares down as much as 19 percent, their biggest one-day drop since 1988.

Friday, the stock fell a little further to touch a 34-month low of 315.1 pence.

"The significant movement in the share price Thursday was, we believe, primarily due to the announcement on profit guidance and UK investment plans for 2012/13. Bob was not party to discussions around the profit guidance or the investment plans at the time he made his sale," the Tesco spokesman said.

A Tesco veteran, Robbins, 54, was appointed UK chief operating officer on March 1, 2011, having previously worked as chief executive officer for central and eastern Europe and strategy and development director in Asia.

He sits on the group's executive committee, one level below its main board.

On 22 December internet director Ken Towle also sold 40,193 shares at 385.6 pence apiece, worth around £155,000.