Investors and traders hoping for the selling and volatility of October to settle down in November were likely disappointed. Some sectors and many individual stocks remained in bearish territory. And there continued to be plenty to worry about, including falling energy prices, rising interest rates, weakness in international markets, growing effects of the trade war with China and a mixed bag from corporate earnings, not to mention the midterm elections early in the month and the upcoming holiday shopping season.
Judging by the most shorted stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange between the October 31 and November 15 settlement dates, those sellers grew wary of the former list toppers, Snap and Rite Aid. Meanwhile, the number of Chesapeake Energy shares short jumped, lifting it to second place.
Note that the six most shorted NYSE stocks had more than 120 million shares short at the end of the most recent settlement period. In fact, all of the top 10 had short interest of more than 100 million shares.
The number of J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) shares short increased only marginally in the latest period to over 142.26 million. That was enough to put it at the top of the list. Note that short interest has grown in nine of the past 13 periods, and most recently it was a whopping 47.4% of the department store operator’s float. The daily average trading volume shrank again during the two weeks, so the days to cover number ticked up from about nine to 10.
This struggling retailer posted another disappointing quarterly report during the two-week period. Short sellers watched the share price retreat more than 26% but then end the period only down less than 6%. The stock has popped 19% or so this past week and closed most recently at $1.43 a share. That is still almost 14% lower than three months ago. The 52-week low, seen in mid-November, was $1.05, while the 52-week high of $4.75 was reached early this year.
The number of Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s (NYSE: CHK) shares short soared almost 16% in the most recent period, and this oil and gas company jumped up from the number six spot on the list to second place. The reported short interest of over 137.80 million shares was 15.3% of the total float. The year-to-date peak back in March was over 210 million shares short. At the posted daily average trading volume on the latest settlement date, it would take about four days to cover all the short positions.
Citigroup became less bearish on Chesapeake during the short interest period. Its share price rose around 6% but then ended those two weeks with a gain of less than 4%. The stock is trading around 9% lower than a week ago, and it ended Tuesday at $2.99 a share. That still is almost 5% higher over the past 90 days. Shares have changed hands as high as $5.60 and as low as $2.53 in the past year.
General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) remained in the top six with a more than 6% pop in the number of its short shares in the first two weeks of the month. Note that the last big move was a jump of more than 23% in the latter half of September. The nearly 130.93 million shares reported most recently represented 1.5% of the conglomerate’s total float, and it compares to the year-to-date high above 155 million shares seen back in March. The daily average trading volume surged for the second straight period, but the days to cover remained at less than one.
Even with a superstar chief executive, it looks like GE has lost its way. The shares retreated more than 19% during the two-week period, and they continued to slide afterward. In the first two weeks of the month, the Dow pulled back a little over 1%. GE’s share price was last seen at $7.46, after hitting a 52-week low of $7.26 a day earlier. The 52-week high, seen early this year, was $19.39 a share. The stock is more than 42% lower than 90 days ago.