The 6 Most Shorted NYSE Stocks: Short Sellers Pile on Alcoa, Freeport-McMoRan

Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (NYSE: PBR), better known as Petrobras, saw the number of its shares short grow by 16.7 million in the two weeks to more than 196.39 million. That was again the highest level of short interest in the past year. The days to cover fell to about seven as the average daily volume increased. Petrobras is one of the oil companies cutting the most spending. Its shares pulled back more than 24% in the first two weeks of the year. They closed most recently at $3.13, down more than 27% year to date. The 52-week high of $10.55 occurred last May, while the $2.71 low was seen last week.

The short interest in Freeport-McMoRan Inc. (NYSE: FCX) surged another 15% more between the most recent settlement dates to more than 177.95 million shares. That was 15.6% of the miner’s float, and it would take about two days to cover all short positions. The number of shares short has more than doubled since the middle of November. The stock hit new 52-weeks lows as the markets tanked in early January. The share price ended the short interest period about 34% lower. The stock has recovered about 10% since and closed most recently at $4.66. The latest 52-week low is $3.52, well short of the 52-week high of $23.97.

A nearly 18% surge brought Alcoa Inc.’s (NYSE: AA) number of shares short to more than 164.95 million at the end of the two-week period. That was the fourth straight period of rising short interest, up to some 12.9% of Alcoa’s total float. The days to cover shrank from six to about three. Fourth-quarter earnings were better than expected. The share price tumbled more than 27% in the two weeks, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped more than 6%. The earnings beat did not stop shares from falling to a recent 52-week low of $6.14. They closed at $6.95 on Wednesday, down from a 52-week high of $17.10

Rounding out the top 10 were Transocean Ltd. (NYSE: RIG), Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE), General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) and AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T). Among these, only Transocean saw rising short interest during the period. Note that Fiat Chrysler Automobiles N.V. (NYSE: FCAU) saw its short interest surge, just not enough to lift it into the top 10 — at least not yet.