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Earnings Surprises Could Hammer Short Sellers of These 4 Stocks

Short selling is always risky business because of the potential for loss. While a stock bought long can only go to zero, a short sale left uncovered can continue to go higher and higher. Intuitive Surgical, Chipotle Mexican Grill and AutoZone are three companies that mauled short-sellers over the past few years. A new research note from Cantor Fitzgerald profiles stocks with upcoming earnings reports and huge short interest.

The Cantor team found 21 stocks reporting earnings this week and beyond with more than 21% of the shares out on loan, or sold short. They highlighted four stocks that could absolutely hammer short sellers if things go right.

Energy XXI (Bermuda) Ltd. (NASDAQ: EXXI) is looking for opportunities to monetize its ultra-deep and conventional gas exploration assets. Farm-ins would be preferred to asset swaps, since the objective would be able to raise capital for exploration and development while keeping capital expenditures within cash flows and paying dividends. The company was recently upgraded to buy at Global Hunter Securities. With a massive 20.5% of the stock sold short, the bears better be right.

Energy XXI shareholders are paid a 6.2% dividend. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target is posted at a gigantic $19.67. Shares closed on Monday at $7.23. The company reports earnings on November 6.

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Myriad Genetics Inc. (NASDAQ: MYGN) is a biotech stock that has hammered the shorts so far this year, up 75%. The company announced Monday that it has signed an expanded companion diagnostic agreement with AbbVie, a leading global biopharmaceutical company, to use Tumor BRACAnalysis CDx as a companion diagnostic in support of AbbVie’s novel poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase inhibitor, veliparib. The collaboration builds on Myriad’s previous agreements with AbbVie, under which the company is providing the testing to support several of AbbVie’s ongoing Phase 3 clinical studies of metastatic breast cancer. The company reports earnings Tuesday.

Myriads short interest has fallen from 46% to 37% because the borrowing has become so expensive, but short-sellers could be living very dangerously. The consensus price target for the stock is $39. Shares closed slightly higher Monday at $39.48.

Swift Energy Co. (NYSE: SFY) is a leading company engaged in developing, exploring, acquiring and operating oil and gas properties, with a focus on oil and natural gas reserves onshore in Texas and Louisiana and in the inland waters of Louisiana. The company has reported solid production over the year, but the short sellers have still attacked. Also a 10% owner, Baker Street, recently sent a letter to the company saying it felt that Wall Street had lost confidence. An astonishing 45% of the company’s stock is sold short.

The consensus price target is $11.18. Shares closed trading on Monday at $6.71. Swift Energy will report earnings on Thursday.

Zoe’s Kitchen Inc. (NYSE: ZOES) had a very hot IPO back in April of this year and has jumped up big off the lows that were printed in September. Founded in 1995, Zoe’s Kitchen is a fast-casual restaurant concept serving a distinct menu of fresh, wholesome, Mediterranean-inspired dishes delivered with Southern hospitality. With 125 locations in 15 states across the United States, Zoe’s has continued to expand, and the shorts have stayed on the stock. Currently 31% of the shares are out on loan.

The consensus price target is $34.20, but the stock closed above that Monday at $36.31. The date for earnings reporting was not available.

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While certainly not for conservative accounts, if any of these companies surprises on earnings or has a big binary or headline event, the shorts could feel the kind of squeeze that could send the stocks dramatically higher.