Concern in the City as National Express directors sell shares

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The Independent Online
Two top directors at National Express yesterday made hundreds of thousands of pounds by exercising and selling large tranches of share options. The share sales raised some concern in the City, given that they came just just 24 hours after National Express reported sharply higher half-year profits.

Colin Child, finance director, made a net profit of pounds 541,000 by cashing in and selling three tranches of share options. The average strike price for the options was around 188p, and all the shares were sold in the market at 517p each. He now has just 4,666 shares left in the company.

Phil White, the transport group's chief executive, also raised pounds 180,950 by selling 35,000 shares, almost half of his stake in the group.

On Thursday the company announced a 39 per cent rise in underlying profits to pounds 31.8m for the six months to June due to a strong performance from the train franchises it acquired under the privatisation of British Rail.

Analysts raised concerns that the share sales were a signal that the group may struggle to maintain its profit momentum. One analyst said: "This can hardly be seen to be a sign of confidence in the group."

However, National Express attempted to play down the significance of the share sales. A spokeswoman for the group said: "I can assure you there is absolutely nothing sinister going on. Colin Child has raised the money to buy a house, Mr White has sold shares to settle some tax liabilities, that is all. The group is disappointed that the share sales will overshadow the company's good set of results."

She said that Mr Child was moving from the suburbs of Weybridge in Surrey to Winchester, the home of National Express's headquarters. He had finally found a new property after looking for a house for the last 18 months.

Mr White, who used to work in Birmingham at the group's West Midland Travel bus subsidiary, is also understood to be looking for a new house around Winchester. However, the company refused to comment on whether he would sell more shares in the group to cover the purchase price.

Mr Child and Mr White are still sitting on a potential fortune. Mr Child has a further 213,075 share options, exercisable at prices as low as 75p compared to yesterday's share price of 521p. Mr White has another 178,422 share options.

Mr Child and Mr White were yesterday in Scotland meeting analysts and were unavailable for comment.

National Express said on Thursday that it planned another large round of redundancies, having already sacked 600 people from the workforce it inherited from British Rail.