Pfizer Overtakes Apple as Most Shorted Dow Stock

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It takes a certain kind of courage to short sell blue chips, such as the Dow Jones industrial average components. Short sellers are betting on these companies to fail, or at least for their share prices to fall handily. Plus, those sellers are responsible for paying the dividends on the stocks they short.

Maybe it is little wonder that only two of the 30 Dow stocks had notable short interest between April 30 and May 15; that is, more than 50 million shares short. In fact, just five of them had short interest of more than 40 million shares.

Yet the bull market is quite long in the tooth — now more than 10 years old — and concern about a coming recession remains as the trade war with China escalates. Investors may wonder then what the short sellers expect from some of the biggest, most well-respected names on Wall Street.

As of the May 15 settlement date, the most recently reported period, short sellers still favored Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE), Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) and Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) above all other Dow stocks.

> Shares short: 66.50 million
> Change from prior period: 39.8%
> Percentage of float: 1.1

After five double-digit percentage declines in a row, short sellers decided to pile on Pfizer again, pushing the stock back to the top spot on this list. But the latest figure is nowhere near the 156 million shares short back in January. At the daily average volume on the most recent settlement date, it would take almost three days for Pfizer short sellers to cover their positions.

Pfizer posted better than expected quarterly results at the end of last month. The shares ended the short interest period about 3% higher than where they started. Meanwhile, the Dow, like the S&P 500, retreated more than 3% between the settlement dates.

Shares closed last week’s trading at $41.95 apiece, only marginally higher than a week before. Pfizer’s 52-week low of $35.32 was seen about a year ago, and the 52-week high of $46.47 was reached this past December. The stock now is less than 4% lower than at the beginning of the year.

> Shares short: 56.75 million
> Change from prior period: 12.31%
> Percentage of float: 1.3

Short sellers found renewed interest in Intel too, ending three straight periods of modestly declining short interest. The number of shares short in the previous period was the lowest in at least a year. The average daily trading volume increased again in the latest period, and as of the middle of this month, it would take less than two days for investors to cover all their short positions.

Wall Street was not impressed with the guidance Intel offered in a presentation for analysts during the short interest period. The share price dropped more than 7% after the presentation, and it ended the period more than 11% lower than on the previous settlement date. The stock continued its retreat afterward as well.

Intel was last seen trading at $44.57 a share, down handily from the multiyear high of $59.59 seen last month. The 52-week low is $42.36 per share. Note that the latest share price is about 5% lower year to date, while the Nasdaq is up over 15% and the Dow has seen a gain of more than 9%.

> Shares short: 49.55 million
> Change from prior period: 5.92%
> Percentage of float: 1.1

While Apple was the most shorted Dow stock in the previous period, that was a position it held only briefly. Note that the latest figure compares with a year-to-date high of almost 97 million Apple shares short at the end of February. The average daily trading volume rose sharply during the first two weeks of this month. By the most recent settlement date, the number of days it would take for investors to cover all their short positions had slipped to less than two.

The maker of iPhones and Macs is among the companies feeling the most pressure from tariffs and the trade war with China. Short sellers watched the share price rise more than 2% yet backslide and end the period with a decline of more than 9%. The Nasdaq pulled back more than 3% during those two weeks.

After falling an additional 3% or so in the past week, Apple stock ended trading most recently at $178.97 a share. That is in a 52-week range of $142.00 (at the beginning of this year) to $233.47 (last October). The share price still is more than 13% higher than at the beginning of the year, compared to the gain of less than 10% for the Dow.

And the Rest

Rounding out the top five most shorted Dow stocks on the most recent settlement date were Cisco Systems Inc. (NASDAQ: CSCO) and Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT). A gain for the former and a pullback for the latter brought the number of their shares short to about the same amount. Share prices of both retreated modestly during the short interest period, though Cisco was helped but a strong quarterly report, and it has become the best-performing Dow stock so far this year.

Also notice on the following list of short interest in Dow stocks as of May 15 the big swings at Chevron (lost a bidding war), Caterpillar (trade war fallout) and 3M (an acquisition):

Dow Stock Short (millions) Change % Float
Pfizer 66.50 39.78% 1.15%
Intel 56.75 12.31% 1.26%
Apple 49.55 −5.92% 1.06%
Cisco 43.44 8.90% 0.99%
Microsoft 43.38 −3.37% 0.58%
Exxon 37.11 −2.01% 0.88%
Verizon 27.41 −3.26% 0.66%
Visa 25.41 −5.09% 1.45%
Coca-Cola 24.19 −10.85% 0.57%
Walgreens 23.09 2.08% 2.91%
JPMorgan 21.52 −1.57% 0.66%
Procter & Gamble 20.22 0.30% 0.81%
Chevron 19.05 −33.03% 1.00%
Disney 17.89 −4.90% 1.20%
Merck 16.91 18.02% 0.65%
Walmart 15.96 −0.69% 1.11%
IBM 14.82 4.70% 1.66%
Caterpillar 12.77 91.57% 2.22%
Johnson & Johnson 12.44 −2.54% 0.47%
3M 10.24 20.79% 1.78%
Nike 9.74 3.54% 0.79%
Home Depot 9.30 −4.52% 0.82%
American Express 7.29 14.42% 0.87%
Dow 7.15 −5.22 0.96%
UnitedHealth 7.03 6.73% 0.74%
McDonald’s 6.85 11.20% 0.90%
United Technologies 6.28 −23.01% 0.73%
Goldman Sachs 5.68 10.75% 1.65%
Boeing 5.36 0.95% 0.95%
Travelers 4.28 33.94% 1.63%

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