The 6 Most Shorted NYSE Stocks

April 11, 2018 by Trey Thoelcke

Source: courtesy of Ford Motor Co.
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 New York Stock Exchange between the March 15 and March 29 settlement dates, those sellers were focused on a few of their favorites. Rite Aid and Ford saw notable rises in the number of their shares sold short in the period. Moves in others featured here were mixed but marginal.

Note that the six most shorted NYSE stocks all had more than 145 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.

Chesapeake Energy

Though the number of Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s (NYSE: CHK) shares short shrank about 3% in the most recent period, this oil and gas company remains at the top of the list. The pullback did little to offset the almost 16% rise in the prior period. The just reported short interest of about 204.70 million shares was 22.9% of the total float. At the posted daily average trading volume on the settlement date, it would take about four days to cover all the short positions.

At least one analyst downgraded Chesapeake during the period, as natural gas prices declined. While its share price ended those two weeks about where it began it, the stock was up around 7% at one point. The S&P 500 retreated more than 4% between the settlement dates. The stock ended trading at $3.09 a share on Tuesday, which is more than 24% lower year to date. The 52-week low of $2.53 was seen back in February. Shares have changed hands as high as $6.39 in the past year.

AT&T

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) again comes in at the number two spot with only a marginal decline in its shares short as of the most recent settlement date. The latest reading of around 177.57 million is still down from a year-to-date high of over 193 million shares. Note that the short interest has shrunk in most recent periods. The latest reading represented 2.9% of the company’s float. As of the end of last month, it would take around six days to cover all short positions, after the average daily trading volume increased somewhat.

AT&T continues to be a popular defensive stock for uncertain times, and investors watched the share price pull back about 4%, though it was down around 7% at one point. The shares have recovered a little since then and ended Tuesday’s trading at $35.81 a share, which is down about 7% year to date. AT&T shares have changed hands between $32.55 and $42.70 apiece in the past 52 weeks.

Weatherford

Weatherford International PLC (NYSE: WFT) remains in the third spot on the list as the number of its shares sold short barely declined in the final two weeks of March. That followed a more than 6% rise in the number of its shares short in the previous period. The more than 167.77 million shares reported most recently represented 17.0% of the total float. The days to cover reading ended the period at around eight, after ticking down by one.

At least one analyst saw huge upside potential for Weatherford last month. Yet, short sellers watched the share price pull back around 13% by the end the settlement period. The stock has recovered much of that ground since then and closed most recently at $2.49 a share. That’s up from a recent 52-week low of $2.07. The 52-week high, seen almost a year ago, was $6.59. The stock is still down about 28% year to date.

Rite Aid

The reported number of Rite Aid Corp. (NYSE: RAD) shares sold short leaped again in this period, from almost 146.52 million to more than 163.99 million as of the most recent settlement date. The latest figure was 15.5% of the company’s total float, as well as the highest level of short interest so far this year. The average daily trading volume shrank again in the most recent period, so the days to cover rose from about five to seven.

Rite Aid completed the transfer of assets to Walgreens last month. Rite Aid’s share price was around 12% lower during the period but had reclaimed all of that loss by the end of the month. The stock closed most recently at $1.65 a share, which was more than 22% lower compared with the beginning of the year. Rite Aid shares have traded between $1.38 and $4.87 apiece in the past 52 weeks.

General Electric

After General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) saw the number of its shares short jump nearly 14% in the previous period to a year-to-date high, short sellers took a pause in the latter two weeks of the month. The more than 151.31 million shares reported most recently was down more than 2% and represented 1.8% of the conglomerate’s total float. The daily average trading volume rose, but the days to cover reading ended the period still at about two.

There was no doubt that GE was the worst performer among the Dow Jones industrials during the first quarter. Its shares ended the short interest period about 6% lower, though they were down more than 11% at one point. In those two weeks, the Dow retreated more than 3%. GE’s share price was last seen at $13.05, which compares with a 52-week low of $12.73 from last month. The 52-week high, which was reached last April, was $30.54 a share. The stock now is more than 27% lower year to date.

Ford

Returning to the top six was Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F), with a more than 8% bump in its shares short in final weeks of the month. That brought the reported number of shares short to almost 145.58 million, or 3.7% of the iconic automaker’s float. With the average daily volume on the latest settlement date, it would take three days for sellers to cover all their short positions.

Last month, Ford announced a change in the executive suite as it strives to enhance its brand. The share price ended the latest settlement period fractionally lower, though it had been down by more than 5% at one point. The shares closed most recently at $11.45, which is more than 9% lower since the beginning of the year. The shares have changed hands between $10.14 and $13.48 apiece in the past 52 weeks.

And the Rest

Rounding out the top 10 were J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP), Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC), Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (NYSE: BABA) and Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S). The big mover among these was Bank of America, with a double-digit percentage decrease in the number of its shares short.

Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE) saw an even bigger drop-off in its short interest, allowing it to fall from the list of the top 10 most shorted NYSE stocks. Lingering with it outside the spotlight of the top 10 were telecom CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), which also had a sharp increase in short interest, and offshore driller Ensco Corp. (NYSE: ESV).

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