Increasing fears of trade wars with China and other U.S. allies, not to mention rising interest rates, haven’t done the markets any favors since the end of May. While the Nasdaq has shown a little sign of life since then, the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500 have been essentially flat. And volatility has not gone away either.
Judging by the most shorted stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange between the May 31 and June 15 settlement dates, those sellers were focused on a couple of favorites. Otherwise moves among these stocks were mixed and mild.
Note that the six most shorted NYSE stocks still had more than 135 million shares short at the end of the most recent settlement period. In fact, all the top 10 had short interest of more than 110 million shares.
AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) remained in the number one spot on the list with approximately a 13% gain in the number of its shares short a year-to-date high as of the most recent settlement date. That reading of more than 220.56 million represented 3.6% of the company’s total float. As of the middle of this month, it would take around four days to cover all short positions, after the average daily trading volume increased sharply in the period.
Some analysts still see AT&T as a defensive play due to its dividend. The share price climbed about 2% in the first two weeks of June, though it was up about 6% at one point in the period. It has continued to retreat since the latest settlement date. Shares ended trading on Wednesday at $31.65 a share, which is down almost 18% year to date. AT&T has changed hands between $31.17 and $39.80 a share in the past 52 weeks.
The number of Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s (NYSE: CHK) shares short declined nearly 3% in the most recent period, again leaving this oil and gas company in the number two spot on the list. The reported short interest of almost 170.39 million shares was 19.0% of the total float, and it was the fourth 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 five days to cover all the short positions.
Natural gas inventories were increasing during the short interest period, and Chesapeake’s share price ended those two weeks more than 3% higher than where it began. The S&P 500 was up less than 3% between the settlement dates. The stock has risen more sharply since then, and it ended trading at $5.17 a share on Wednesday. That is more than 20% higher year to date. Shares have changed hands as high as $5.44 and as low as $2.53 in the past year.
The reported number of Rite Aid Corp. (NYSE: RAD) shares sold short grew from around 155.35 million to nearly 158.84 million as of the most recent settlement date. That was 15.1% of the company’s total float and the second highest level of short interest so far this year. The average daily trading volume increased during the period, and the days to cover figure shrank from about 19 to 14.
Rite Aid wasn’t expected to post quarterly results until after the short interest period, but analysts’ expectations were pretty low. Still, its share price rose about 12% during those two weeks, much of the gain seen early in the period. In the past week, the stock is up about 1%, and it closed most recently at $1.98 a share. That was more than 7% lower compared with the beginning of the year. Rite Aid shares have traded between $1.38 and $4.21 apiece in the past 52 weeks.