Macy’s Short Interest Surges 32% as Success Options Disappear

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Over the past 12 months, shares of Macy’s Inc. (NYSE: M) have fallen nearly 49%. That’s worse than the 47% share-price decline at Sears Holdings Corp. (NASDAQ: SHLD), a retailer that is often believed to be headed for collapse.

If short seller interest in a stock indicates how the market views a company, then the outlook for Macy’s is getting decidedly more negative. Short interest in the company’s stock rose by 32% in the two-week period that ended on August 15. Nearly 12% of Macy’s stock was short, though the 35.6 million shorted shares would take just three days to cover.

Short interest in Sears fell 5% in the same period to 13.2 million shares, about 19% of the floated shares. Days to cover totaled 14.

When Macy’s reported second-quarter results earlier this month, the company managed to beat both the profit and revenue estimate. But $43 million of the retailer’s operating profits were generated by real estate sales, double the amount attributed to such sales in the second quarter of last year.

The company’s CEO, Jeff Gennette, said in the quarterly announcement:

We are working with a mindset of continuous improvement and will adapt our business in order to reach our goal of stabilizing the brick-and-mortar business while investing for accelerated growth in digital and mobile. Key to this strategy is engaging our customers with an improved experience that includes more elevated and exclusive assortments, a better integration of technology both online and in the store, and additional enhancements intended to drive traffic and sales.

But Gennette and Macy’s had nothing to say about how the company’s online sales had done in the quarter. The company includes online sales with everything else, so it’s impossible to figure out if a same-store sales drop of 2.8% was helped or hurt by online sales. If they helped, they did not help much.

Unlike Sears, Macy’s doesn’t spend a lot of time discussing how it is working to finance its way out of the hole it has dug for itself. That’s not the biggest problem Macy’s has. The company needs to boost traffic both to its brick-and-mortar and online stores. How can we tell? Because the store never mentions traffic except to say that it is making “additional enhancements intended to drive traffic and sales.” That is pretty weak tea.

Macy’s stock dropped by about 15% in the latest two-week short interest reporting period. Nearly 10% of that drop occurred on the day it reported second-quarter results. That short sellers continue to pile in does not trigger confidence in the mumbo-jumbo plan outlined by the CEO.

The stock closed up about 0.9% on Thursday, at $20.69 in a 52-week range of $19.32 to $45.41. Shares traded up about 0.2% in the premarket session Friday. The 12-month consensus price target on the stock is $24.29. The low target from 17 analysts is $20 and the high target is $36.