Short Sellers Become Tactical in the Top High-Yield Dividend Stocks

Short sellers are have previously been all over the place when it comes to the high-yield dividend stocks. The May 15 settlement date is during what should have been (or could have been) a “Sell in May and go away” theme that did not materialize in the bull market. It now seems as though the short sellers have started being more tactical rather than trying to peg all high dividends.

The top dividend stocks we are tracking the short interest in are as follows: Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO), American Electric Power Co. Inc. (NYSE: AEP), Annaly Capital Management Inc. (NYSE: NLY), AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T), Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK), General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE), Kimberly Clark Corp. (NYSE: KMB), Kinder Morgan Energy Partners L.P. (NYSE: KMP), Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK), Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG), Reynolds American Inc. (NYSE: RAI) and Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ).

As we have said before, it takes much more conviction to short sell a stock that has a very high dividend. On top of having to pay a broker loan-call rate to borrow the stock, the dividend payouts have to be paid and the ex-dividend dates play into the equation as well. We compared the short interest settlement dates of April 30 versus May 15 and gave added color compared to the recent past on each.

Altria Group Inc. (NYSE: MO) saw another drop to 20.38 million shares in the mid-May short interest from 21.11 million on April 30. This is down from 26.08 million shares short just a month ago and is actually half of the level from last November. Altria yields “only” 4.7% now that shares have risen so much.

American Electric Power Co. Inc. (NYSE: AEP) lost almost 25% of its short interest as the short sellers only counted 3.37 million shares in mid-May. That is the lowest reading since February, and the dividend yield is now about 4.1%.

Annaly Capital Management Inc. (NYSE: NLY) saw a significant gain in the short interest as short sellers are betting against the leader of the high-yield MBS REITs. The short interest in mid-May was 32.25 million shares, versus 25.6 million shares short at the end of April. This was the highest reading since the end of January. Annaly has a current yield of about 12.5%, based on its last payout.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) recaptured its high short interest reading with 81.545 million shares in the mid-May short interest, its third highest reading in a year. This short interest was up more than 13% from the 71.73 million shares short at the end of April and is marginally higher than the 78.29 million shares short in mid-April. AT&T’s dividend is 4.9% for the telecom giant.

Duke Energy Corp. (NYSE: DUK) saw only a small change to 6.875 million shares from 6.814 million shares at the end of April. Duke has a dividend yield of about 4.4%.

General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) had originally seen profit taking since its mid-April earnings report, but now shares are back up close to new multiyear highs. Short sellers lightened up to 92.3 million shares short as of mid-May, versus 94.2 million shares as of the end of April. GE still outyields the other conglomerates with a 3.2% yield.

Kimberly-Clark Corp. (NYSE: KMB) saw another downtick in the short interest to 7.407 million shares. This is down from 7.896 million shares at the end of April and down even more from the 8.05 million shares short in mid-April. This consumer products giant’s dividend yield is about 3.1%.

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners L.P. (NYSE: KMP) saw a huge drop in the short interest after having seen four straight gains in the short interest. The May 15 short interest fell to 2.248 million units from 3.74 million units as of April 30, a drop of more than 40% in the short interest. Its dividend is actually a distribution and now is the equivalent of about 5.9%.

Merck & Co. Inc. (NYSE: MRK) saw almost 10% lower short interest in mid-May as the shares short fell to 23.089 million from a prior big jump to 28.5 million shares as of the end of April. Merck’s dividend yield is about 3.6%, now that shares have handily recovered.

Procter & Gamble Co. (NYSE: PG) is going to perhaps seem odd now that the new CEO ouster news is out after the short interest period. P&G saw its short interest rise to 22.88 million shares in mid-May from 19.82 million shares as of April 30. P&G’s dividend is now back down to 2.9% since its stock has popped higher.

Reynolds American Inc. (NYSE: RAI) saw only a marginal change in the short interest, down to 10.33 million shares short from 10.52 million at the April 30 date and down from 10.75 million in mid-April. Reynolds has a yield about 5.1%, and shares were challenging new highs.

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) was at a last-February low in the short interest, down to 50.822 million shares. The short interest was 52.19 million shares at the end of April and peaked around 61.2 million shares as of February 28. Verizon’s dividend yield is currently about 4%.