December has turned out to be one of the most brutal for stock investors in many years. That should be good news for short sellers, depending on how they had themselves positioned. Judging by the most shorted stocks traded on the New York Stock Exchange between the November 30 and December 14 settlement dates, those sellers were loading up on their favorites, particularly the top three on the list.
Note that the three most shorted NYSE stocks had more than 130 million shares short at the end of the most recent settlement period. In fact, eight of the top 10 had short interest of more than 100 million shares.
The number of Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s (NYSE: CHK) shares short grew more than 7% in the most recent period, on top of a 10% jump in the late November period. The most recently reported short interest of more than 162.73 million shares represented 18.2% 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.
Chesapeake sank to new 52-week lows this month. Its share price retreated 23% or so across those two weeks, and even more since that time. The stock is trading less than 3% higher than a week ago, and it ended Wednesday at $2.19 a share. That still is down more than 50% over the past 90 days. Shares have changed hands as high as $5.60 and as low as $1.71 in the past year. That low was seen during the Christmas Eve sell-off in the markets.
Bank of America
Bank of America Corp.’s (NYSE: BAC) short interest in the latest two-week period grew by more than 7% to over 147.88 million, following an 18% surge in the previous period. That lifted it to the number two spot on the list, though the latest reading represented just 1.5% of the total float. As of the middle of December, it would take about two days to cover all short positions at the listed daily average volume.
This stock also was a member of the 52-week low club during the period. Its share price ended the latest settlement period with a retreat of more than 15%, while the S&P 500 saw a decline of less than 8%. The stock closed most recently at $24.11 a share, which is down about 20% in the past 90 days. The shares have changed hands between $22.66 and $33.05 in the past 52 weeks.
General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE) also rose up the list with a more than 3% pop in the number of its short shares in the first two weeks of this month, its second similar rise in a row. The more than 139.71 million shares reported most recently represented 1.6% of the conglomerate’s total float, and that compares to the year-to-date high above 155 million shares short seen back in March. It still would take less than a day for investors to cover all short positions.
GE has continued its restructuring efforts this month. Its shares ended the two weeks more than 7% lower, despite being down about 13% earlier in the period. In the initial two weeks of this month, the Dow Jones industrial average pulled back about 8%. GE’s share price was last seen at $7.39, after hitting a 52-week low of $6.66 earlier in December. The 52-week high, seen almost a year ago, was $19.39 a share. The stock is about 35% lower than 90 days ago.
And the Rest
Rounding out the top 10 were the following:
- Snap Inc. (NYSE: SNAP): 128.95 million shares (−6%)
- J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP): 125.60 million (−7%)
- Weatherford International PLC (NYSE: WFT): 118.47 million (−7%)
- Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (NYSE: BABA): 115.22 million (+5%)
- Rite Aid Corp. (NYSE: RAD): 113.62 million (−2%)
- Ford Motor Co. (NYSE: F): 98.10 million (+2%)
- Infosys Ltd. (NYSE: INFY): 93.71 million (+5%)
Lingered outside the spotlight of the top 10 most shorted NYSE stocks were Aurora Cannabis Inc. (NYSE: ACB) and CenturyLink Inc. (NYSE: CTL), as well as Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S), even though the number of its shares plummeted by a double-digit percentage between the settlement dates. Meanwhile, Energy Transfer L.P. (NYSE: ET) saw a sizable rise in short interest, but not yet enough to lift it into the top 10.