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

Trey Thoelcke

Among the six most heavily shorted stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange, short sellers continued to pile on Alcoa and Freeport-McMoRan between the January 15 and January 29 settlement dates. Short interest in the other four pulled back by less than 10%.

Note that the 10 most shorted NYSE stocks all had more than 180,000 shares short at the end of the most recent settlement period.

Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK) saw its short interest drop less than 3% to around 224.80 million shares by the end of January. That was the third consecutive period of decline, and it was 34.4% of the company’s float. The days to cover remained about eight as the daily average volume pulled back. Chesapeake ended its preferred dividend late in January. Short sellers watched the stock retreat about 17% at one point between the settlement dates but end the period down less than 5%. The S&P 500 climbed more than 3% in the two weeks. The stock closed most recently at $1.95, up from a recent multiyear low of $1.50. The 52-week high of $21.29 was seen almost a year ago.

The short interest in Freeport-McMoRan Inc. (NYSE: FCX) surged another 25% between the most recent settlement dates to more than 222.71 million shares. That followed a 15% gain in the previous period, and it was 19.6% of the miner’s float. It would take about three days to cover all short positions, as the average daily volume rose to a 52-week high. The company offered turnaround plans with its latest quarterly results, and the share price ended the short interest period almost 6% higher. The stock has surged more than 18% more since and closed most recently at $5.00. The 52-week low is $3.52, well short of the 52-week high of $23.97.

Sprint Corp.’s (NYSE: S) short interest declined about 5% in the final weeks of the month, ending five consecutive periods with an expanding number of shares short. The most recent reading of around 212.78 million was 34.2% of the float. The days to cover dropped from more than 13 to about six as the daily average volume increased. Some see Sprint finally turning around, and the share price ended the two-week period more than 5% higher, despite being down more than 14% at one point. The stock closed Tuesday at $2.65, in a 52-week trading range of $2.18 to $5.45.

The number of Vale S.A. (NYSE: VALE) shares short dropped by some 19.66 million in the two weeks to almost 198.12 million. At the most recent average daily volume, it would take about seven days to cover all short positions, down from nine mid-month. The stock continued hitting new 52-week lows during the short interest period, going as low as $2.13. The miner’s shares fell more than 9% but ended the short-interest period more than 3% higher. The stock closed on Tuesday at $2.47. The 52-week high of $9.14 was seen last May.

Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (NYSE: PBR), better known as Petrobras, saw the number of its shares short shrink by 2.7% in the two weeks to almost 191.18 million. That was still the second highest level of short interest in the past year. The days to cover fell to about six as the average daily volume increased again. Petrobras said in January that its proved reserves have dwindled. Its shares pulled back more than 10% in the period but ended the month up more than 6%. They closed most recently at $2.99, down more than 30% year to date. The 52-week high of $10.55 occurred last May, while the $2.71 low was seen recently.

A nearly 14% rise brought Alcoa Inc.’s (NYSE: AA) number of shares short to more than 187.78 million at the end of the two-week period. That was the fifth straight period of rising short interest, up to some 14.7% of Alcoa’s total float. The days to cover increased from three to about five. The stock fell to a new 52-week low in late January. The share price tumbled more than 14% early in the short interest period, but by the end of the month was up more than 4%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose about 3%. Shares have traded hands between $6.14 and $16.07 in the past year. They closed at $7.81 on Tuesday.

Rounding out the top 10 were Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE), Transocean Ltd. (NYSE: RIG), General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) and Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F). Among these, Ford was the mover, jumping more than 17% to above 100,000 shares short for the first time since last September. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) was pushed out of the top 10, despite a modest bump in the number of its shares short.