Senator sold online travel company stock in day before Trump Europe travel ban

Senator Kelly Loeffler sold a total of $46,027 worth of stock in an online travel company in the day leading up to President Donald Trump’s announcement of a ban on most European travel to the U.S.

Though the transactions were relatively small for Loeffler and her husband — whose net worth is estimated at more than $500 million — the sales represented an about-face.

Loeffler, a Georgia Republican, had just days earlier purchased the shares, in Booking Holdings, jointly with her husband, Jeffrey Sprecher, the chief executive officer of Intercontinental Exchange, parent firm of the New York Stock Exchange

Booking Holdings provides online bookings for flights, hotels and other travel-related services, all of which have collapsed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The stock was purchased on March 6, the day that Loeffler traveled with Trump, visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention headquarters in Atlanta for an update on the coronavirus response, and continuing on a later flight to Florida.

It was sold on March 10 and 11. After the markets closed on March 11, the president announced his European travel restrictions.

The details, provided by the senator’s office, go beyond the financial transaction reports she recently filed that merely require ranges for various holdings.

Last month, news reports about her sales and purchases of other stocks — after government briefings to Congress on the virus — caused a stir, with critics questioning whether she was sufficiently focused on her constituents. Some stock sales by another senator, Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican, have prompted a government inquiry.

Loeffler has said that outside finance professionals manage her portfolio and do so at arm’s length. Her campaign has declined to identify those advisers.

She was appointed in December by Georgia’s governor, Brian Kemp, to fill out the term of Senator Johnny Isakson, who retired, and is running for the seat this fall.

Her messages on Facebook try to maintain a focus on her efforts to combat the coronavirus and keep Georgia strong. “So, all of these stories that you are seeing attacking me are nothing but fake news. These are politically motivated attacks that prey on the fears of Americans during a global pandemic,” she said in a video posted on Wednesday.

The disclosures present a fuller portrait of the couple’s trading activities this year. The activity shows their advisers taking a number of defensive steps as the markets began to slide.

The new, detailed financial disclosures from Loeffler show that she and her husband bought $590,557 in stocks between Feb. 24 and March 13, and sold stocks worth $845,557 from Feb. 20 to March 9th.

There was a different series of transactions that allowed them to take some money up front while betting that stock prices, even if crushed in the near term, would rebound later this year.

The strategy, involving the sale of put options, is commonly used by hedge funds to take advantage of fluctuating markets.

“Why sell put options? They’re a play on volatility,” said Jim Angel, a professor at Georgetown University.

On Feb. 20 and 21, Loeffler’s advisers sold put options on five companies, including DuPont de Nemours Inc., Kellogg Co. and Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. The sale generated immediate premiums, but obligate them to buy the underlying shares if they fall below the strike price when the options expire later this year. So far, all but the Alibaba options are in the red.

Two weeks later, Loeffler’s advisers sold put options in another basket of companies, including BP Plc, Chevron Corp. and American International Group Inc. Most of those are also underwater.

Earlier in the year, Loeffler reported the sale of put options in Delta Airlines, Aflac and Caterpillar Inc., all of which are currently in the red.

Another professor suggested the strategy was unusual for a traditional portfolio and might suggest a need for cash. “It’s a risky play, with limited upside and unlimited downside,” said Craig Pirrong, a professor of finance at the University of Houston. “If my adviser were doing that,” he added, “I’d be kind of ticked.”

Before she became senator, Loeffler had served as chief communications and marketing officer for Intercontinental Exchange, and later was chief executive officer of Bakkt, an Intercontinental unit that trades Bitcoin futures. She is also a co-owner of the Atlanta Dream of the Women’s National Basketball Association.

She is self funding her campaign. Four-term Republican Representative Doug Collins is among those challenging her in what is a wide open “jungle primary” on Nov. 3.

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