The short interest in Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) recently dropped 9.6% to 65.7 million shares, a possible sign that traders who benefit from falling share prices have stepped away from the company as its stock continues to soar.
The measure of short interest in Nasdaq stocks is as of March 13.
The wisdom of the short sellers’ decision is supported by the movement of Apple’s shares since the beginning of the year. Despite its mammoth $744 billion market cap, Apple’s stock is up almost 15%, compared to an improvement of less than 6% in the S&P 500. Short sellers betting against Apple for a longer period may have been burned as well. Apple’s shares are up 91% over the past two years, against a 54% improvement in the S&P 500.
The gamble against Apple shares is primarily a bet that it cannot keep up its remarkable revenue growth, based primarily on sales of the iPhone. In the most recently reported quarter, Apple announced:
… financial results for its fiscal 2015 first quarter ended December 27, 2014. The Company posted record quarterly revenue of $74.6 billion and record quarterly net profit of $18 billion, or $3.06 per diluted share. These results compare to revenue of $57.6 billion and net profit of $13.1 billion, or $2.07 per diluted share, in the year-ago quarter. Gross margin was 39.9 percent compared to 37.9 percent in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 65 percent of the quarter’s revenue.
Apple sold 74.4 million iPhones for the period, which brought in $51.2 billion. The full effect of the sales of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus will not show up until Apple releases numbers on its current quarter. However, nearly every piece of data about the new smartphone indicates its sales have been wildly successful.
The other factor that may prove short sellers have made a mistake is the introduction of the Apple Watch, although many analysts believe it is too expensive and short on features. If that point of view is correct, short sellers of Apple shares may regret their exit.