For the period that ended February 15, the short interest in Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) rose just over 7 million shares to 49.1 million. The number seems like a lot, but it is only 1% of Apple’s float, and the stock trades 58 million shares a day. The short interest is a tiny sliver of Apple’s overall trading level and share base.
Nevertheless, short sellers did bet against Apple in greater numbers over the period. Why?
Among the reasons to doubt Apple’s prospects is the rumored poor sales of its iPhone X flagship. It is, by many accounts, the most advanced smartphone in the world. It has a price tag of $1,000 when not purchased as part of a subscription to one of the large wireless carriers. Even then, it is expensive for many consumers. And it is too early to tell how many people will switch from earlier versions of the phone or from the competition.
The iPhone does have a powerful new competitor. Its archrival Samsung has just released its top-of-the-line Galaxy S9. Whether it is an “iPhone killer” or not, its sales are bound to take away some of the iPhone’s market momentum.
Another problem for Apple is that research firm Gartner reported that global smartphones sales fell last year, an unprecedented event in the history of smartphones. Apple can no longer count on a growing market to enhance its ability to sell iPhones.
Apple’s share price performance this year is only slightly better than the market’s. Its stock is up 3.6% to $178. The S&P 500 is higher by 1.8% over the same period. That is a slowing from its performance last year, a time when Apple’s shares were up 30% compared to the S&P 500 at 16%.
The increase in short interest is meaningless when compared to Apple’s overall share activity. On the other hand, that does not mean the short sellers are wrong.