Late summer and early fall can make some investors nervous, and it can make for some interesting moves by short sellers. But judging by the moves in the six most shorted stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange between July 31 and August 15, the short sellers seem to be cautious, even though the major indexes remain near all-time highs and the bull run is well more than eight years old now.
Among the two most shorted NYSE stocks, short interest hardly changed at all. The only notable increase in the number of shares short was seen in a struggling retailer and failed merger partner that charged into the top six late last month.
Note that the top six stocks on the list all had more than 120 million shares short at the end of the most recent settlement period. In fact, all the top 10 had short interest of more than 100 million shares.
While the number of Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s (NYSE: CHK) shares short has risen in nearly every period so far this year, and it remains the most shorted NYSE stock, its short interest decreased most recently by less than a million shares to about 198,70 million. That was 22.2% of the company’s float. At the latest posted daily average trading volume, it would take about five days to cover all the short positions.
Chesapeake posted mixed quarterly results early in the period. Its share price ended the two weeks more than 19% lower, and it has slipped a little more since then. The S&P 500 saw only a fractional decline between the settlement dates. The stock closed most recently at $3.86 a share, after hitting a 52-week low of $3.76 this week, and now is about 45% lower year to date. Shares have changed hands as high as $8.20 in the past 52 weeks.
The more than 170.41 million AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) shares short on the most recent settlement date was barely any higher than at the end of July, once again affirming its place in the number two spot on the list. Also it still represented 2.8% of the float and was almost the highest level of short interest in at least a year. As of the middle of this month, it would take about nine days to cover all short positions.
It turns out that unlimited data plans like the one at AT&T have contributed to network congestion. In the first two weeks of August, short sellers watched the share price retreat by around 2%, and some more afterward. The stock closed most recently at $37.68 a share, which was more than 11% lower than at the beginning of the year. The 52-week trading range for these shares is $35.81 to $43.03.
Weatherford International PLC (NYSE: WFT) remains in the third spot on the list, though the number of shares short dropped about 6% in the first two weeks of August to the fewest seen since back in April. The more than 135.27 million shares reported most recently represented 13.9% of the total float. The days to cover reading ended the period at around nine.
Weatherford recently named a new chief operating officer. The company’s shares were more than 12% lower at the end of the two-week period, though they have been relatively flat in the past week. The share price was last seen at $3.90. That was up from the multiyear low of $3.39 in early July, but handily less than the 52-week high of $7.09 from back in March.