Facing another push from day traders targeting the most-shorted stocks such as AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc., hedge funds aren’t backing down this time.
Professional speculators, who were forced to retreat in late January amid a similar assault, are instead boosting their bearish wagers. Their short positions against single shares climbed for a ninth straight week, reaching an almost one-year high relative to the overall equity holdings, according to prime-broker data compiled by Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
Their steadfastness was evident in AMC shares, where short interest remained elevated even after more than doubled last week. The percentage of shares outstanding sold short edged higher Tuesday to top 20%. As the stock doubled again Wednesday, short interest only slipped below 19%.
The dynamic contrasts with four months ago, when a rally in meme stocks like GameStop Corp. compelled hedge funds to quickly slash their short exposure to the lowest in five years. Goldman Sachs attributes the opposite reaction to the fact that the current carnage has yet to cause widespread pain for the industry.
Consider a basket of the 50 most-shorted stocks tracked by Goldman. While AMC has quadrupled this quarter in a blow to short sellers, roughly half of the basket’s members are down. The group is up 2.4% in the span, trailing an advance of 6% for the S&P 500. That means gains for any trade that’s short individual companies and long the broader market.
“This confirms that managers have felt more comfortable utilizing single names to express directional views or adjust exposures, as highly shorted stocks and high retail sentiment names broadly underperformed in the past two months,” analysts at Goldman’s prime-broker unit wrote in a note to clients. Despite a sharp rally in stocks favored by retail money, “shorts on the group only saw modest net covering,” they said.
AMC bears reloaded amid last week’s rally. Their short sales have increased to 20% of the total stock outstanding from 17.1% in the middle of last month, according to IHS Markit data.
Short sellers have been raising their bearish wagers as some bets, like those against technology companies, paid off. A Goldman basket of the most-shorted tech stocks has tumbled almost 30% from its February peak.
After notching a record high in early May, the S&P 500 has struggled to make any headways as investors contemplate the growth potential against stretched valuations. Money has shifted among stocks, creating violent price swings in pockets of the market.
“You might have the S&P trading sideways over the next month or two, but you have individual names going all over the place,” said Shawn Snyder, head of investment strategy at Citi Personal Wealth Management. “That’s an opportunity for them to make large profits.”
–With assistance from Claire Ballentine.
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