Sprint Skeptics Cashed In

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Sprint's ( S) bears were right.

The stock took a beating Wednesday after the shrinking No. 3 wireless telco reported yet another drop in subscribers.

Sprint says 69,000 customers left in the fourth quarter, bringing the total number of defections to 1.2 million for the year, and a total subscriber count of 48.1 million. The good news, if you can call it that, is that the customer cancelation rate in 2009 wasn't as bad as the 4.5 million users who left Sprint in 2008.

Perhaps sensing that subscriber growth wasn't in the cards, investors took big bets that the stock was going to fall as the fourth quarter report approached. The short interest in Sprint increased 47% last month, putting Sprint seventh on the NYSE's top 100 list of short-interest stocks in January.

Sprint shares were down 10% to $3.23 in afternoon trading Wednesday after Sprint posted its fourth quarter earnings release.

To short a stock, investors borrow the shares with the expectation that they can pay back the shares at a lower price, and keep the difference.

Sprint wasn't the only tech company on the list. Qwest ( Q) ranked 12th on the NYSE roster, having seen a 4% increase in short interest, according to the January figures.

Nokia ( NOK), AT&T ( T) and Motorola ( MOT) each saw a decline in short interest in January. That is generally a sign that investors are less pessimistic about the stock performance.

-- Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

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