Short Interest Declines in Oil and Gas Sector, With One Exception

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Short interest in several large oil and gas stocks dropped in the two-week period to January 31, probably on expectations of greater demand due to an improving global economy. Short interest rose in just one of the six companies we have tracked.

Chevron Corp. (NYSE: CVX) saw short interest fall 4.7% to 13.21 million shares. About 0.7% of Chevron’s float is now short, and the days to cover is two. Chevron’s fourth-quarter and full-year results came in below expectations, and short sellers took some profits. The company is still touted as the best of the big oil firms, but it may be losing some of its shine. The stock closed at $112.58 Tuesday, in a 52-week range of $109.27 to $127.83.

Short interest in Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) declined 9.9% to 51.37 million shares, or about 1.2% of the company’s float and four days to cover at average daily trading volume. Like Chevron, Exxon’s results were disappointing, and some shorts took their profits and will wait on the sidelines for now. Shares closed at $90.84 on Tuesday night, in a 52-week range of $84.79 to $101.74.

Valero Energy Corp. (NYSE: VLO) posted a drop of 19.7% in short interest to a total of 10.11 million shares. Short interest comprises about 1.9% of Valero’s float, and the days to cover is down to one. Operating income in the fourth quarter was flat, and Valero got some help from its ethanol business. As crude oil prices rise, Valero’s profit outlook weakens, so shorts are likely to get into the stock again fairly soon. The shares closed at $47.82, in a 52-week range of $33.00 to $53.64.

Short interest in Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) fell 5.6% to 50.78 million shares, which represents about 7.8% of the company’s float and six days to cover. Unusually cold weather has propped up natural gas prices and probably accounts for the dip in short interest. The company does not report fourth-quarter results until February 26. The stock closed at $24.82, in a 52-week range of $18.21 to $29.06.

Oilfield services giant Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE: SLB) saw short interest dip 3.7% to 13.48 million shares, about 1% of Schlumberger’s float and two days to cover at average daily volume. Shares are headed for a year-to-date high, and now might be a good time to wait to see if a new annual high will be set before taking the short side of the bet. The stock closed at $90.37 Tuesday, in a 52-week range of $69.08 to $94.91.

National Oilwell Varco Inc. (NYSE: NOV) is the only stock we tracked that posted a rise in short interest. Shorts now hold 9.01 million shares, up 9.8% in the two-week period. That represents about 2.1% of the company’s float and just two days to over. Varco shares posted their yearly high in mid-November and have been slipping ever since. Shorts obviously think the stock has some way further to fall. Shares closed at $75.60 on Tuesday, in a 52-week range of $63.08 to $84.71.

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