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Itron exec’s trades legitimate

Itron Inc.’s chief financial officer exercised stock options that netted him $803,430 before taxes in the days leading up to the company’s disappointing third-quarter earnings report, but Itron said there are no insider trading concerns.

The executive, Steven Helmbrecht, used a prearranged trading plan designed to comply with a U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission rule, called 10b5-1, that addresses insider trades, the company said in response to a reporter’s questions. Under the plan, Helmbrecht exercised four sets of stock options in October – the latest coming Oct. 29 as the company prepared to release earnings results to Wall Street.

Deloris Duquette, vice president of investor relations for the Liberty Lake company, acknowledged that the timing of Helmbrecht’s trades was unfortunate.

“We’ve had inquiries from investors and employees because it looked funny,” she said.

Helmbrecht disclosed the transactions in two required filings with the SEC. Stock purchases and sales by company executives, who are called insiders, must be reported within two business days.

Specifically, Helmbrecht reported that on Oct. 7, 10, 26 and 29 he exercised options on 12,753 shares ranging in price from $20.64 to $48.51. He then sold all the shares for prices ranging from $100 to $107.50 per share.

The options are part of Helmbrecht’s executive compensation package approved by Itron’s board of directors.

Duquette said executives set target dates or prices for their options transactions well in advance of the date they occur to offset concerns that executives are using privileged information for personal gain.

Helmbrecht’s sales occurred when Itron stock topped the $100-a-share mark, raising questions.

The company’s share price declined $20.98 on Friday to close at $80.07 after Itron failed to meet the earnings-per-share expectations of analysts.

The stock began recovering this week, climbing to $86.35 a share at Tuesday’s market close.

Itron had been a stock star this year, rising steadily from $51.15 in early January to a high of $112.92 on Oct. 30.

It is traded on the Nasdaq under the ticker ITRI.