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 surprise that only two of the 30 Dow stocks had sizable short interest between July 15 and July 31; that is, more than 45 million shares short. A third of the index’s components had short interest of more than 25 million shares.
While the new earnings reporting season was not as bad as many had feared, employment numbers were a disappointment and second-quarter gross domestic product was historically bad. And the pandemic showed no signs that it would fade anytime soon. Investors trying to figure out what to do next may wonder then what the short sellers expected from some of the biggest, most well-respected names on Wall Street. After the caution seen in the prior period, short sellers seemed to find some focus, as there were several notable short interest swings in the period.
As of the middle of the month settlement date, the most recently reported period, short sellers favored Pfizer Inc. (NYSE: PFE), Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE: XOM) and Intel Corp. (NASDAQ: INTC) above all other Dow stocks.
> Shares short: around 53.49 million
> Change from prior period: 12.7%
> Percentage of float: 1.0
This sizable rise in the number of Pfizer shares short lifted the pharmaceutical leader to the top spot on the list. Short interest remained below the year-to-date high of around 61 million shares seen back in January, though. At the average daily trading volume on the latest settlement date, the days to cover figure was still less than two.
This maker of Lipitor, Viagra and Xanax is a frontrunner in the race for a COVID-19 vaccine, and it posted solid quarterly numbers. Its share price ended the latter half of July more than 7% higher, though it had been up over 10% at one point. The S&P 500 rose about 2% during the short interest period.
Pfizer stock closed most recently at $37.79 per share, after pulling back marginally in the past week. The 52-week low of $27.88 was seen in March, and the 52-week high of $40.97 was reached early this year. The shares now trade more than 3% lower than they did at the beginning of the year but are up over 30% from their March low.
> Shares short: around 48.55 million
> Change from prior period: −7.87%
> Percentage of float: 1.2
After taking a breather in the previous period, short interest in the oil supermajor continued to shrink in the latter half of last month, and the stock dropped to the second spot on the most shorted Dow components list. At the average daily volume on the latest settlement date, it would take investors a little more than two days to cover their short interest.
Exxon posted quarterly results at the end of the period that were not as bad as they could have been. Short sellers watched the share price rise more than 2% but then fall and end the period down more than 4%. Note that the Dow ended the final two weeks of last month fractionally lower.
After a gain of 3% or so in the past week, Exxon Mobil stock closed trading most recently at $44.97 a share. That was in a 52-week range of $75.18 (last September) to $30.11 (in March). The most recent share price is more than 37% higher since the year-to-date low in March, compared to almost a 46% gain in the S&P 500.