From an investment standpoint, some of the most interesting stocks in the market are heavily shorted stocks.
On one hand, if a stock is heavily shorted, it means that a bunch of investors are betting on the stock going down. That means the bear thesis has a lot of believers, and probably a lot of credibility. Sometimes that consensus bear thesis plays out as expected, the heavily shorted stock drops, and shorts cover at a huge profit.
On the other hand, if a stock is heavily shorted, it can mean that very few investors believe the stock is going to go up. It also means that a bunch of money needs to buy back into the stock at some point. That combination means the stock has a lot of potential upside firepower. Thus, if the bear thesis falls apart and things start to improve at the company, the heavily shorted stock will surge, assisted by a short squeeze as investors rush to cover their short positions.
Going long a heavily shorted stock is often a high-risk, high-reward scenario. Either the consensus bear thesis is right, and the stock falls. Or, the consensus bear thesis is wrong, and the stock pops.
With that in mind, I’ve put together a list of seven heavily shorted stocks which, at current levels, have more reward than risk, and have a realistic opportunity for a big short squeeze rally in the foreseeable future.
Short Squeeze Stocks to Watch: AMC Entertainment (AMC)
The Bear Thesis: Shares of America’s largest movie theater chain operator, AMC Entertainment (NYSE:AMC) have slumped to an all-time low in 2019, dropping nearly 50% over the past year, as weak box office results accelerated fears regarding a movie theater apocalypse. As the stock has dropped, shorts have continued to pile into AMC stock (short interest is at almost 30%, a 52-week-high). As investors are betting that things won’t get better, consumers will keep shunning movie theaters, and revenues and profits will keep dropping.
Why a Short Squeeze Could Happen: AMC’s short interest has been this high only once before. That was in late 2017, followed by a rally in AMC stock from about $10 to almost $20. The drivers of that rally? Improved box office results, and AMC launching a subscription program.
Those same drivers could spark a similar short squeeze rally here. Box office results will likely pick up over the next few months, assisted by Lion King, Frozen 2, and a new Star Wars film. Meanwhile, AMC’s subscription program, Stubs A-List, has a lot of momentum, and presently counts more than 860,000 members. As box office results improve into the back-half of 2019 and Stubs A-List continues to add subscribers, shorts will rush to cover, and AMC stock should bounce back in a big way.
% of Float Short: 31%
The Bear Thesis: Much like shares of AMC, shares of electric vehicle maker Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) have slumped to multi-year lows in 2019, down almost 31% over the past year. The culprit? Bad first quarter 2019 numbers. Those numbers spooked investors and implied the company’s once-robust growth trajectory is flattening out. Investors are concerned that it will keep flattening out as competition ramps up, and have consequently rushed to short the stock (short interest has climbed from below 20% in early 2019, to above 30% today).
Why a Short Squeeze Could Happen: Tesla’s second quarter 2019 numbers were much better than its first quarter numbers, and broadly implied that the growth trajectory is not flattening out. Meanwhile, numbers from Inside EVs imply that Tesla’s market share is only growing (despite new competitors). The EV market continues to grow at a robust pace and remains on track to grow by at least 10-fold over the next decade.
Consequently, the long-term growth narrative for Tesla remains favorable (the leading player in a rapidly growing market). The numbers here will continue to improve in the back-half of 2019, assisted by lower rates, a Model S/X refresh, new Model Y production, and cooling trade tensions.
As those numbers continue to improve, the long term bull thesis will come back into the spotlight, and shorts will rush to cover, sparking a big rally in TSLA stock.
% of Float Short: 44%
The Bear Thesis: The bear thesis on consumer robotics company iRobot (NASDAQ:IRBT) is centered around the trade war. In short, one of iRobot’s most important, biggest, and fastest-growing markets is China. The introduction of U.S.-China tariffs, however, forced iRobot to hike prices on its robotic vacuum cleaners, which has had an adverse impact on both China demand and gross margins. Investors are betting these tariffs will either stick around or get worse. As such, 44% of the float are betting on the stock going down.
Why a Short Squeeze Could Happen: The long-term bull thesis supporting iRobot remains favorable. As consumer robotics penetration rates remain relatively low (24% of total vacuum cleaners in 2018), that market is growing very quickly (40% growth in 2018). iRobot is the unchallenged leader in the market (50%-plus market share in 2018), revenue growth is robust (17%-20% expected in 2019), and gross margins are healthy (around 50%). Putting all that together, it is pretty clear that IRBT stock is a long-term winner.
With trade tensions between the U.S. and China now cooling, it appears increasingly likely that iRobot will be able to get back on its long-term winning trajectory soon. Once that happens, shorts will rush to cover, and IRBT stock will fly higher.
Stitch Fix (SFIX)
The Bear Thesis: The bear thesis on Stitch Fix (NASDAQ:SFIX) is pretty straight-forward: As more competition enters the online personal styling segment, Stitch Fix’s growth rates will moderate. This moderation will weigh on SFIX stock’s rich valuation and ultimately drag the stock lower. A good portion of investors believe that this will happen, and that’s why 25% of the float is short.
Why a Short Squeeze Could Happen: The bear thesis on SFIX stock gained traction in late 2018 as growth came screeching to a halt. That slowdown was due to one-time changes and purposefully lower marketing spend. Since then, those one-offs have been phased out, marketing spend has re-accelerated, and Stitch Fix’s growth rates have surged higher.
This higher growth trend will persist for the foreseeable future. Stitch Fix is changing the game in retail to a curated, on-demand model. We’ve seen these shifts before. They work (think Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) or Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN)). As such, curated, on-demand shopping will gain share and traction over the next several years, Stitch Fix’s growth trajectory will remain favorable, shorts will rush to cover, and SFIX stock will rally.
Dick’s Sporting Goods (DKS)
The Bear Thesis: The bear thesis on Dick’s Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS) is predicated on the idea that Dick’s is no longer relevant in the athletic apparel retail model. Specifically, the athletic apparel market is shifting from wholesale retail to direct retail. That means brands like Nike (NYSE:NKE) are taking product out of the wholesale pipeline (out of Dick’s) and putting product into their direct channel (like their own stores). Dick’s has been adversely impacted by this shift. Many expect this shift to continue. As such, many expect Dick’s to continue to struggle, and DKS stock to continue to sputter lower.
Why a Short Squeeze Could Happen: There are signs that this shift from wholesale to direct is moderating. After a streak of negative comparable sales growth quarters, Dick’s finally reported flat comps last quarter. More than that, comps inflected into positive territory towards the end of the quarter, and started this quarter in positive territory, too. The guide calls for comps to be positive for the full year 2019. As such, Dick’s is presently in the process of going from negative comps to positive comps, and that inflection against the backdrop of 30% short interest implies a nice set-up in the back half of 2019 for a short squeeze.
The Bear Thesis: Online food ordering and delivery giant GrubHub (NYSE:GRUB) used to be a market favorite, given the company’s leadership position in a secular growth market. Then, signs emerged that GrubHub was rapidly losing market share to smaller but more relevant online food ordering and delivery companies like Postmates and UberEats. Revenue growth slowed. Margins got hit. Profit growth fell flat. The stock dropped. Many investors expect these competition-related headwinds to only get worse, and as such, 25% of the float is betting that GRUB stock will keep falling.
Why a Short Squeeze Could Happen: The online food ordering and delivery space is big enough to accommodate multiple large players. GrubHub will be one of those large players. It just won’t be the only large player. A few years ago, at 50%-plus market share, GrubHub was the only large player. Now, though, GrubHub’s market share sits around 30%, and is roughly in-line with DoorDash and UberEats, meaning that GrubHub is now one of many large players. Further, market share erosion has moderated over the past few months.
As such, it’s reasonable to believe that the worst of the GrubHub share erosion is in the rear-view mirror, meaning growth rates should moderate going forward. Such growth moderation will force the huge short base to cover, which could spark a sizable short squeeze in GRUB stock over the next few months.
Short Squeeze Stocks to Watch: Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF)
% of Float Short: 34%
The Bear Thesis: The bear thesis on Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) is aligned with the bear thesis on physical retail. It goes something like this: Malls are dying, as are their major tenants. Abercrombie & Fitch is one of those major tenants. Consequently, as retail demand shifts more to the direct channel and away from malls, Abercrombie’s numbers will remain weak. Those persistently weak numbers will create a drag on ANF stock for the foreseeable future.
Why a Short Squeeze Could Happen: A short squeeze could happen here because the bear thesis is just wrong. Physical retail isn’t dying. Consumers will always have some desire to go to malls, whether it be to try on clothes or simply enjoy the experience of shopping (yes, that’s a thing). As such, physical retail is simply shrinking to accommodate higher sales volume in the direct channel.
With direct sales growth starting to slow, though, it’s reasonable to believe that the worst of physical retail’s shrinkage is over. Thus, results across the entire physical retail world should start to improve over the next several quarters. This is a rising tide that will left all boats, ANF included. The result? Abercrombie’s numbers will get better over the next few quarters. Shorts will rush to cover. The stock will pop.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long AMC, TSLA, IRBT, SFIX, and NKE.