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Are execs bailing on Netscape?

The company's may be trading near its 52-week low, but that's not keeping five of Netscape's top executives from filing to sell nearly 1 million shares.

Netscape Communications' (NSCP) stock may be trading near its 52-week low, but that's not keeping five of the company's top executives from filing to sell nearly 1 million shares.

Last month, the company insiders filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell a total of 850,000 shares. The move comes as the stock has fallen from its high of 49-1/2 in July to its close today of 19-3/8. The 52-week low for Netscape shares was 14-7/8.

Marc Andreessen, the company's vice president of products, has filed to sell 375,000 shares; Michael Homer, vice president of sales and marketing, filed to dump 100,000 shares; James Sha, general manager of integrated applications, filed for 100,000 shares; Roberta Katz, general counsel, also filed for 100,000; and Richard Schell, general manager of Netscape's client products division, has filed to sell 200,000 shares. The filings clear the way for selling the shares but do not necessarily mean that the sales actually will take place.

"It's always a concern when insiders are selling when the stock is retreating, because you can't make the argument they're selling for profit-taking," said Craig Columbus, an insider analyst with Disclosure, an information research and retrieval firm.

Based on Netscape's proxy filed last April, and excluding any vesting of options or sales that has occurred since then, Andreessen's pending sale represents 25 percent of his 1.5 million shares. Sha's filing represents less than 10 percent of his 1.2 million shares, and Schell's reflects about 34 percent of his 598,640.

Katz, meanwhile, is looking to let go roughly 25 percent of her stake of 402,904 shares, and Homer is considering selling roughly 40 percent of his holdings of 255,261 shares as of last August. That was the last time Katz and Homer sold stock, so those numbers do not reflect any vested options or grants that may have been given to them since then.

Netscape has a trading window during which executives are allowed to buy and sell shares, Netscape spokesman Quincy Smith said. He noted, however, that Internet stocks tend to be sold more frequently than those in other sectors, regardless of a particular company's performance.

Columbus said he would caution investors not to read too much into the pending sale by the Netscape executives.

"This would only cause me to take another look at [Netscape's] stock, but won't serve as a major sell decision," he said.