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) -- Both


(C) - Get Citigroup Inc. Report


Bank of America

(BAC) - Get Bank of America Corp Report

once again saw an increase in outstanding short interest, according to

New York Stock Exchange

data released late Wednesday that shows shorting activity in the first half of this month.

Short interest refers to the number of shares lent out to investors who are betting a stock will fall. If it does, they can buy the shares at the lower price, pay back the lender, and pocket the difference.

Citigroup short interest has risen at least six straight times now since since I began tracking the data, which the NYSE releases every two weeks. Bank of America has seen a similar assault from short sellers, including a

tripling of short interest in December

, when the bank sold $19.3 billion worth of new stock in order to pay back the U.S. Treasury on its investment under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The increase in shares outstanding, however, does not fully explain the rise in short interest.

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Wells Fargo

(WFC) - Get Wells Fargo & Company Report

, for example, has not seen such a dramatic rise in short interest, even though it sold $12.25 billion worth of new shares in December to pay back the Treasury.

Wells Fargo's roughly 50 million shares sold short represent less than 1% of the bank's 5.18 billion in total shares outstanding. By contrast, Bank of America's 344 million shares held by short sellers add up to nearly 4% of its total 8.65 billion share float. By this measure, Citigroup's 448 million shares sold short do not look quite so bad, since they represent about 1.6% of the bank's 28.48 billion shares outstanding.

The jump in short interest is interesting in light of the fact that some high profile hedge fund managers like George Soros and John Paulson have lately been building up long positions in both Citigroup and Bank of America.

Among other big financial stocks,

General Electric

(GE) - Get General Electric Company Report


Ambac Financial Group



Synovus Financial Corp.


US Bancorp

(USB) - Get U.S. Bancorp Report

also saw a rise in short interest in the first half of February.


Written by Dan Freed in New York