The market might be clawing out new highs seemingly every other day, but stocks with high short interest still get no love.
Indeed, the S&P 500 is littered with names where a large portion of the float — that is, shares available for trading — are held by short sellers just waiting for them to implode. Whether it’s a terrible macroeconomic backdrop or a case of rising too far too fast, some of these S&P 500 stocks are just hated by the market. More than most names, these securities sure look like stocks to sell.
True, sometimes stocks with heavy short interest are terrific buys. After all, the majority of the float is still sitting on the long side of the trade. Even better, any rise in the share price can set off a short squeeze. That’s when a short has to buy the stock to close a position because the trade is going against him. That adds to demand for the stock and magnifies any gains.
However, most stocks with heavy short interest are duds. Sure, they may have some good days or weeks here and there — helped by short squeezes — but look a little farther out and these stocks clearly have more pain ahead.
We looked at the S&P 500 for stocks with high short interest (as of Oct. 15, the latest available data) to find names that are in no ways plays for a pop. Sure, you could get lucky by timing a trade just right, but it’s more likely anyone long will get burned. These are slam-dunk stocks to sell:
Short Interest Stocks — GameStop Corp. (GME)
Short Interest: 33%
GameStop Corp. (GME) has had a nice run over the last month, putting pressure on the shorts, but that upside looks to have burned itself out. After all, GME gained 20% since mid-October. That amply reflects any upside to a strong holiday selling season thanks to a strong lineup of new games. But it also sets the level high enough for more shorts to come in.
The story with GameStop is that it’s really tough to be a bricks-and-mortar retailer of video games and consoles when more of the former are being downloaded online. Adding to the sense of doom is that competition like Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (WMT) can undercut it on price.
The market has been waiting for GME to breathe its last breath for a while. It’s down 10% for the year-to-date, gets a forward price-to-earnings multiple of just 10 and can’t keep any gains over $45 a share. With GME standing at $44, a new wave of selling should be coming soon.
Short Interest Stocks — Frontier Communications Corp (FTR)
Short Interest: 15%
Frontier Communications Corp (FTR) is always on the list of stocks in the S&P 500 with the highest dividend yields. Indeed, at 6.2%, this telecom stock offers a higher-percentage payout than most junk bonds. But this year, FTR has added price appreciation to the mix — and a large chunk of the market doesn’t think it can last.
The five-year chart for this regional telecom is just bad. FTR is up just 7% in the last half-decade despite being in one of the best bull markets of all time. For the year-to-date, however, FTR is up an incredible 45% and to much of the market, that looks like a case of too far too fast.
True, FTR has made a lot of progress in retaining customers and cutting costs, but the market has clearly become too exuberant on this name. The forward P/E stands at 25 despite a long-term growth rate of negative 30%. It’s only a matter of time before FTR reverts to the trend.
Short Interest Stocks — Transocean LTD (RIG)
Short Interest: 25%
Transocean (RIG) is another one of the S&P 500’s top dividend payers, but who knows how long that can last? The dividend yield is now more than 10% because the stock price has fallen so low. Given the terrible macroeconomics of its industry, there’s no shortage of traders who think it has more room to fall.
The deepwater drilling industry is pinched between two forces it can’t control. The global economy remains weak, making progress only in tiny fits and starts. At the same time, the shale revolution is flooding the market with U.S. oil. Taken together, energy prices are in a steep funk that won’t end soon.
Low energy prices mean the oil majors have no incentive to open new deepwater wells. With ships sitting idle or coming of low-rates paid contracts, Transocean is off 46% for the year-to-date. At some point, RIG will be so cheap it’s a buy, but with oil prices forecast to stay low — or even fall farther — RIG will find itself sinking into deeper waters.
As of this writing, Dan Burrows did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.