The market gains in early March began to dwindle in the latter half of the month as worries about a potential trade war grew and big tech stocks began to sell off. It was not only the end of the month, but the end of the calendar quarter, so there was little going on in the way of earnings reports to help buoy the markets. However, sell-offs can be good for short sellers, depending on how they are positioned and how nimble they are.
Judging by the most shorted stocks traded on the Nasdaq, those sellers were looking for direction between the March 15 and March 29 settlement dates, as moves were mixed. The standouts in the top 10 were Intel, with a double-digit percentage retreat in the number of its shares short, and Sirius XM, with a pullback almost as large. Other moves in the top 10 were more modest.
Note that now just two Nasdaq stocks had more than 100 million shares short, as of the most recent settlement date.
The nearly 200.18 million Sirius XM Holdings Inc. (NASDAQ: SIRI) shares short after the final two weeks of last month was over 9% less than on the previous settlement date. The latest reading totaled 15.2% of the available float, and it was the lowest level of short interest in the past year. Though the average daily volume retreated for the fifth period in row, the days to cover remained near 12.
LL Cool J launched his classic hip-hop station on Sirius late last month. The stock ended the latest short interest period less than 3% lower than where it began it, though it has recovered somewhat since then. The Nasdaq fell over 6% between the settlement dates. Like the broader markets, Sirius stock has grown modestly in the past week, and it closed at $6.27 most recently. The 52-week low of $4.73 was reached last May, while a $6.61 multiyear high was seen recently.
By the end of March, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (NASDAQ: AMD) had more than 181.91 million shares short. That was 7.8 million or so more than the total on the previous settlement date, and it was the highest level of short interest in at least a year. The latest reading represented 20.1% of the company’s float. The average daily volume decreased sharply, so the number of days it would take to cover all short positions rose from two to more than three.
AMD was not left out of recent speculation about semiconductor mergers and acquisitions. Its March 29 closing share price was about 12% lower than on the previous settlement date, despite being up more than 2% earlier in the period. The stock closed trading most recently at $9.98 a share, which is about 9% lower year to date. Shares have changed hands at between $9.04 and $15.65 apiece in the past year.
More than 90.37 million Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) shares were sold short as of the most recent settlement date. That figure was down more than 13% from the prior period, and it was only the second time in the past six months that short interest was less and 100 million shares. The latest reading represented 1.9% of the chipmaker’s float. As of the month’s end, it would take less than three days for investors to cover all their short positions.
Intel was the top-performing Dow Jones industrial during the first quarter. Its shares ended the latest short interest period only about 1% higher, though they had been up almost 4% at one point. Intel closed most recently at $51.27 a share, which compares with last month’s multiyear high of $53.78. The 52-week low is $33.23. And the share price now is more than 9% higher year to date.