While the beginning of April marked the start of a new calendar quarter, the new earnings reporting season didn’t kick off until the middle of the month. Judging by the most shorted stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange between the March 29 and April 13 settlement dates, those sellers were whittling down their stakes in the most shorted stocks ahead of the quarterly reports.
Chesapeake Energy, Ford and Rite Aid led that trend with double-digit percentage declines in the numbers of their shares sold short. All the top six, and eight of the top 10, most shorted NYSE stocks saw shrinking short interest to begin this month.
Note that the six most shorted NYSE stocks still had more than 125 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.
Though the number of Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s (NYSE: CHK) shares short dropped about 10% in the most recent period, this oil and gas company remains at the top of the list. The reported short interest of more than 183.79 million shares was 20.5% of the total float, and that was the first time since mid-February that the total was less than 200 million. At the posted daily average trading volume on the settlement date, it would take about eight days to cover all the short positions.
Natural gas prices declined early in the month, and Citigroup recently downgraded Chesapeake all the way to Sell. While its share price ended those two weeks about 6% higher than where it began, the stock was down about 5% at one point. The S&P 500 was up more than 1% between the settlement dates. The stock ended trading at $2.94 a share on Tuesday, which is more than 28% lower year to date. The 52-week low of $2.53 was seen back in February. Shares have changed hands as high as $5.97 in the past year.
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 nearly 170.96 million is down from a year-to-date high of over 193 million shares. Note that the short interest has shrunk in most recent periods. The most recently reported figure represented 2.8% of the company’s float. As of the middle of this month, it would take around seven days to cover all short positions, after the average daily trading volume decreased somewhat.
Smaller rivals Sprint and T-Mobil resumed merger talks during the period, and AT&T investors watched its share price slip more than 1% by mid-month and a little more afterward. The shares retreated less than the broader markets on Tuesday and ended trading at $35.00 a share, which is down more than 9% year to date. AT&T shares have changed hands between $32.55 and $40.56 apiece in the past 52 weeks.
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 first two weeks of April. That was the second period in a row with little change in the number of its shares short. The almost 166.41 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.
Weatherford continued to be a regular member of the 52-week low club early in April. Yet, short sellers watched the share price rise nearly 16% by the end the settlement period. The stock did retreat somewhat after that and closed most recently at $2.76 a share. That’s up from a recent 52-week low of $2.07. The 52-week high, seen almost a year ago, was $6.09. The stock is still down more than 20% year to date.