March went out like a lamb, as far as the markets were concerned, with the major indexes retreating from all-time highs. Judging by the most shorted stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange, overall short sellers seemed to be watching and waiting. Moves in those shorted stocks were mixed between the March 15 and March 31 settlement dates and mostly modest.
However, Ford bucked that trend. Short sellers piled on, lifting it into the number six spot on the list, during the two-week period, when shares were slumping and reported sales were weak.
Note that the top six stocks on the list all had more than 100 million shares short at the end of the most recent settlement period.
Weatherford International PLC (NYSE: WFT) is still the most shorted NYSE stock, despite a more than 1% drop in the number of shares short in the final two weeks of last month. That followed a 16.7% surge in short interest in the previous period. The more than 136.25 million shares reported most recently represented 14.1% of this oil and gas driller’s total float. At the most current daily average, it would take about eight days to cover all the short positions.
Wells Fargo sees big upside in Weatherford shares. The stock ended the two-week period almost 6% higher, while the S&P 500 was down fractionally in that time. The stock closed most recently at $6.52 a share, which is more than 30% higher year to date. Shares have changed hands between $3.73 and $8.49 in the past 52 weeks.
Moving back up to the number two spot on the list last month was Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S). This despite short interest declining in seven of the previous ten periods. Most recently the number of shares short grew by more than 5 million shares to more than 129.87 million shares, which totaled 20.3% of the float. The days to cover remained around 10 during those two weeks.
Sprint and its peers appear to be in a race to the bottom. Sprint’s share price ended the short interest period about where it began, despite being down more than 4% at one point. The stock has retreated again since then and closed most recently at $8.32. It hit a 52-week high of $9.65 earlier this year, well up from the 52-week low of $3.30 almost a year ago.
Though the number of Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s (NYSE: CHK) shares short had risen in each period so far this year, it pulled back most recently, down around 5% as of the end of March. Around 127.83 million shares short were reported, or 14.3% of the company’s float. As of the most recent settlement date, the days to cover reading was around three.
Chesapeake saw some notable insider buying last month. Between the latest settlement dates, short sellers watched the share price drop more than 8% but then recover and end about 9% higher. It rose more afterward and closed most recently at $6.18. That was well up from the multiyear low of $3.56 from last summer, but handily less than the 52-week high of $8.20 seen in mid-December.