Cars and Drivers

Why a Key Short Seller Is Pounding Harley-Davidson

Through time, millions of people have owned motorcycles. With Harley-Davidson Inc. (NYSE: HOG) being the top motorcycle company out there, you might wonder why a short seller is so aggressive against the stock. It turns out that Harley-Davidson is now the largest short position in the portfolio of the AdvisorShares Ranger Equity Bear ETF (NYSEMKT: HDGE). 24/7 Wall St. looked deeper into this, and this is not the only team betting against this iconic brand.

The latest earnings report took out some serious wind from the motorcycle maker. Brad Lamensdorf, co-manager of the short-only exchange traded fund added to the fund’s short sale position after that poor earnings report.

Lamensdorf listed several reasons why he has gotten so aggressive in this short sale position and why he believes the stock will continue to erode. Much of the blame simply may be that Polaris Industries Inc. (NYSE: PII) is eating it alive. Lamensdorf’s reasoning is as follows:

  • The company stuffing its sales channels via new dealers
  • Too easy financing
  • New and growing competition from American-made Polaris’ Victory and Indian motorcycles (see below)
  • The Japanese style of lighter, faster and more reliable bikes more appealing to the younger generation
  • Harley-Davidson’s main appeal to the aging generation that grew up in the 1950s through 1970s

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As far as the competition from Polaris, the company is generally better known for off-road vehicles and snowmobiles. It acquired the Indian Motorcycle company four years ago and has spent seriously to revitalize its motorcycle. Lamensdorf noted that some consumer polls say their bikes are more reliable than Harley-Davidson’s. He thinks that Polaris will be able to revitalize the formerly bankrupt Indian brand now that it has put the bikes for sale in as many as 1,750 dealerships, possibly as many places as where Harley-Davidsons are sold. Polaris was also said to have all but doubled its motorcycle sales figures in 2014 to $348.7 million. Harley-Davidson, despite heavy overhead costs, still made $5.5 billion.

This may sound a bit extreme or against the grain when you consider that Harley-Davidson is considered one of the top brands in the world. Also, 24/7 Wall St. recently pondered if the recent weakness would be enough to attract Warren Buffett and his team to acquire the motorcycle maker. The last drop on earnings was to $55.72 from $61.77 on April 21.

Lamensdorf looks far from being alone in betting against Harley-Davidson. The Nasdaq short interest report as of the April 15 settlement date showed that the stock’s short interest was 9.711 million shares. That was down from 9.737 million shares two weeks earlier, but those are the highest short interest readings going all the way back to last July and June, when the short interest was 10.9 million shares and 11.1 million shares, respectively.

Harley-Davidson shares were down 0.5% at $56.55 in mid-morning on Thursday, versus a 52-week range of $54.22 to $74.13. The consensus analyst price target is now down to $66.00.

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