After peaking in mid-July, short interest in
stocks eased this month. Nevertheless, a few highflying names remained squarely in the sights of the bear camp.
The total number of shorted shares on the Nasdaq fell to 4.25 billion in the month ended Aug. 15, from 4.54 billion the prior period, the highest level this year, according to market statistics. (The figures describe stock that is borrowed and then sold in the 2,760 top-tier Nasdaq shares.)
While explanations ranged from an improving economic picture to higher corporate earnings, market watchers were skeptical that the decline portended anything major. "Short interest could be down because people may be covering their short positions, or it can just be the fact that people are getting squeezed out of shorts," said Henry Van Der Eb, portfolio manager at Gabelli Asset Management. "Short interest will rarely go down as fast as it goes up. It typically won't plunge, so it's tough to generalize off these numbers."
Among stocks with the highest short interest relative to average volume,
remained close to the top, at 5.5 days' volume needed to cover outstanding positions. (Average days-to-cover is the most useful measure of short interest because it controls for liquidity. Stocks that trade a lot of shares are usually at the top of the short-interest list by virtue of their volume.)
and online services provider
had smaller short-interest ratios of 3.0 days and 2.0 days respectively, still high among top-tier companies. They each also saw short interest rise by about 14% during the period.
A few specific stocks saw violent swings.
RF Micro Devices
had one of the biggest, with shorted shares rising 47% from July 15 to Aug. 12.
The wireless chipmaker slipped into the red in its fiscal first quarter, despite a rise in sales. The company also forecast a wider-than-expected loss in the current quarter.
short interest also jumped 47% in the month. The maker of high-speed Internet gear managed to narrow its loss in the second quarter, but sales dropped, and the company said it might have to declare bankruptcy if a debt-for-equity restructuring plan is rejected by shareholders.
also reduced its stake in the company to 6 million shares from 14 million.
Positive news chased the shorts out of some shares, too.
saw a 20% drop in short interest in the month ended Aug. 12. The decline might be traceable to the company's ability to keep its second-quarter loss from swelling while promising to turn profitable this year, without providing a specific date.
Since then, Ericsson has secured an $800 million revolving credit line with a group of banks led by Citigroup and was awarded a $600 million agreement to provide equipment to a wireless network in China.
The same went for semiconductor-equipment maker
. The stock had a 20% decline in short interest in the month after the company matched analyst estimates in second-quarter profit. Even though earnings declined from a year ago, the company said it was cautiously optimistic that bookings will increase in the current quarter, while it sees a rebound in the PC and telecom industries. After that, the stock received two upgrades, one from Goldman Sachs and another from Lehman Brothers.
And although the Nasdaq as a whole had less short interest in the month, the
, a security that mimics the 100 largest stocks in the exchange, saw a 12% increase in short-selling, with the short index reaching a hefty 3.1 times its daily volume.