Apple Short Interest Drops 13 Million Shares

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Short interest in Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) fell by nearly 22% in the two-week reporting period ended December 15. Some 46.07 million Apple shares were short, about 0.9% of the company’s float. Days to cover was one, at average daily volume of about 32.6 million shares traded.

After a pop of more than 14 million shares in short interest in the prior period, short sellers pulled out in the latest two weeks, dumping nearly 13 million of those shorted shares. That’s the largest decline of any Nasdaq-traded stock.

Short interest in Apple hit a 12-month high of 99.7 million in late May and a 12-month low of 44.3 million in mid-July. Short interest has dropped 30% for the year to date.

Shares are trading near the stock’s 52-week high and closed on Tuesday at $117.26, in a 52-week range of $89.47 to $118.69. Since December 1, shares have added 6.8%.

Brokerage ratings since the end of November have almost unanimously maintained previous levels, with the vast majority rating Apple stock as the equivalent of a Buy. The high price target on the stock is $185 and the low is $85.

Perhaps the decline in short interest is related to hopes that the incoming Trump administration will declare a tax holiday on repatriated cash. Apple certainly would benefit from such a move, and investors might be positioning themselves for a special dividend or at least a big stock buyback from the company.

Last week Brean Capital said that it thought that the company’s iPhone sales in the December quarter would come in at 77 million or 78 million, as expected. The analysts don’t see the March quarter being quite as strong, according to a report from Barron’s:

Mar Q looks like it will be softer than we’d envisioned, with iPhones feeling more like in the 52M – 54M range, vs. our prior view of 56M – 57M. As such, we could see revenue and EPS in the range of $55B and $2.20; that said, Street appears already appropriately set at $54.7B and $2.14.

So what’s leading to the softer Mar Q outlook? In our view, two primary things: 1) the impact from capturing Samsung Galaxy share feels fairly muted (perhaps as little as 1M units in total, although obviously tough to quantify) and 2) we believe that China has improved, and perhaps could have softened a tad net-net.

Next year marks the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, and the seemingly endless game of guessing what changes Apple will make to the next iPhone is already well underway, with more than nine months remaining until the product is expected to launch. This, too, could help explain the drop in short interest.

Apple stock traded up about 0.3% Wednesday morning to $117.60. The consensus 12-month price target is $131.96.