As the markets reached all-time highs last month, the short sellers were in retreat, judging by the moves in the most heavily shorted stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange between the April 15 and April 29 settlement dates. One of the leaders of that trend was copper and gold miner Freeport-McMoRan, with a double-digit percentage decline in the number of its shares short. But bucking that trend was Brazilian iron miner Vale.
Note that the five most shorted NYSE stocks still all had more than 125 million shares short at the end of the most recent settlement period.
Though its short interest dropped about 6% between settlement dates, Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) held on to its place at the top of the list. The more than 188.71 million shares short reported most recently totaled 30.2% of the float. The days to cover rose from nine to 14 as the daily average volume shrank. Merrill Lynch was disappointed in Sprint’s latest earnings report. Its share price was up nearly 6% twice during the two-week period but ended up down more than 4%. The S&P 500 retreated fractionally in that time. The stock closed most recently at $3.50. That is more than 3% lower than at the beginning of the year. The 52-week trading range is $2.18 to $5.29.
The number of Vale S.A. (NYSE: VALE) shares short grew by more than 12.75 million in the two weeks from the lowest level of short interest in the past year more than 162.31 million. At the most recent average daily volume, it would take about four days to cover all short positions. The Brazilian miner posted a better-than-expected first-quarter profit. Vale’s shares ended the short-interest period around 7% higher, though it was down more than 3% at one point. The stock closed most recently at $4.55, up more than 38% year to date, but also more than 38% lower than a year ago. The share price has ranged from $2.13 to $7.74 in the past 52 weeks.
Vale’s rise in short interest allowed Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F) to slip down to third place on the list. A less than 3% retreat brought the number of its shares short to more than 154.28 million at the end of the settlement period, which represented 4.0% of the total float. That was the second period in a row of decline, after eight straight periods of rising short interest. It would take about four days to cover all short positions. Ford issued additional recalls late last month. Despite its share price rising nearly 9% during the period, the stock gave up almost half of that gain by month’s end. Ford shares have changed hands between $10.44 and $15.84 apiece in the past year, and they were trading at $13.49 on Tuesday’s close, down more than 4% year to date.
A more than 2% retreat left Alcoa Inc.’s (NYSE: AA) number of shares short at more than 141.64 million by the end of the two-week period, or 11.0% of the total float. That followed a 4% retreat in short interest in the previous period. The days to cover was about five as of the most recent settlement date. Analysts were not thrilled about Alcoa’s recent top-line miss and lower guidance. Its share price increased more than 11% in the short interest period but has since given up most of that gain. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 1% by the end of the month. Alcoa shares have changed hands between $6.14 and $13.89 apiece in the past year. They closed at $9.66 on Tuesday.
The number of shares short in Freeport-McMoRan Inc. (NYSE: FCX) dropped more than 13% to more than 129.82 million on the most recent settlement date, resuming the previous four-period streak of shrinking short interest. Some 10.5% of the miner’s float was sold short, and it would take about two days to cover all short positions. Short interest peaked at the end of January at more than 222 million. Ongoing efforts to make Freeport leaner continued last month, and the share price ended the short interest period almost 29% higher. It gave up most of that gain afterward and closed most recently at $10.85. The 52-week low is $3.52, well short of the 52-week high of $23.30.
Rounding out the top 10 were Petróleo Brasileiro S.A. (NYSE: PBR), General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE), Chesapeake Energy Corp. (NYSE: CHK), Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) and Transocean Ltd. (NYSE: RIG). GE, Chesapeake and Pfizer saw double-digit percentage drop offs in the number of their shares short in the period. J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) also bucked the trend with a modest bump in short interest, but not enough to lift it into the top 10 most shorted NYSE stocks.