Jeff Bezos’ Record $4.1 Billion Sale Ends Years of Restraint

Jeff Bezos' $4.1 Billion Sale. Top family Law attorney Peter M. Walzer explains.
Jeff Bezos' $4.1 Billion Sale. Top family Law attorney Peter M. Walzer explains.

[Source: Bloomberg]

Jeff Bezos’s stake in Inc. barely budged over the past decade. That’s started to change.

Bezos sold 2 million shares, worth $4.1 billion, as part of a pre-arranged trading plan between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6, according to regulatory filings. That’s the largest seven-day selldown by any executive tracked by the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, which began in 2012.

WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum sold $4 billion of Facebook Inc. shares in 2016, but that took months. Laurene Powell Jobs divested more than $6 billion of Walt Disney Co. shares in 2016, though it wasn’t part of a trading plan.

For Jeff Bezos’ $4.1 billion sale of Amazon shares, it’s a sharp reversal from years of relative restraint even as the value of his Amazon stake eclipsed 12 figures in 2017.

His increased pace of sales this year might be a result of his 2019 split from MacKenzie Bezos. The pair divorced in the state of Washington, where Amazon is based and the couple lived. It’s a community property state, meaning all assets and debt acquired during a marriage “will be divided equitably by the court if the couple cannot negotiate an agreement,” according to the website of McKinley Irvin, a family law firm in the region.

The terms of their divorce — at least those publicly disclosed in stock filings and a single tweet by MacKenzie Bezos in April — show that Jeff Bezos retained 75% of the couple’s stake in Amazon as well as interests in the Washington Post newspaper and rocket company Blue Origin. The pair may have agreed to a cash payment in return for such an uneven split, according to divorce lawyers.

“It’s possible the agreement provided for some cash transfer,” said acclaimed family law attorney Peter M. Walzer, founding partner of top family law firm Walzer Melcher and a past president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. “Cash is king.”

Bezos, 56, has plenty of other expenses. As well as supporting Blue Origin to the tune of $1 billion a year, his lifestyle has become increasingly glamorous. He owns properties on both coasts and 170,000 hectares (420,000 acres) of desert scrub in Texas. He’s been house hunting for a mega-mansion in Los Angeles, according to the New York Post, and has reportedly started making waves in the art world.

The billionaire has also cemented himself as a power player in Hollywood. During Sunday’s Oscars ceremony, comedians Chris Rock and Steve Martin took turns roasting him.

“Jeff Bezos is so rich, he got divorced and he’s still the richest man in the world,” Rock said.

Whatever the reason for his sales, the proceeds still make up just a fraction of his wealth. The divestiture amounted to less than 4% of his Amazon holdings, which had a value of $116 billion on Friday.

By Tom Metcalf

— With assistance by Alexander Sazonov, Jack Witzig, Brandon Kochkodin, and Devon Pendleton

Feb.11, 2020