Feb 19, 2021 - Economy & Business

Short bets have dropped substantially since GameStop phenomenon

Keith Gill testifying
Screenshot via CNBC

Short positions in U.S. equities have declined significantly since "meme stocks" like GameStop exploded higher earlier this year, S&P Global Market Intelligence data show.

By the numbers: At the end of January, the percentage of outstanding shares of S&P 500 companies held by short sellers averaged 3.1%, down from 4.1% a year ago.

  • Short interest in the most shorted of the S&P 500's 11 sectors in 2020, consumer discretionary, fell to 4.7% at the end of January, down from 5.4% in the middle of the month and from 6.7% at the end of January 2020.

What they're saying: "I think a lot of hedge funds are stepping back until the retail euphoria calms down," Pauline Bell, an equity analyst at CFRA Research, told S&P Global Market Intelligence.

  • "Hedge funds are on the lookout. They don't want to get burned."

Yes, but: The number of short positions investors are taking is in decline, but the amount of money investors are putting in short interest positions appears to be increasing, according to an analysis by Ihor Dusaniwsky, managing director at S3 Partners.

  • Short interest in the Russell 3000 index as a percentage of the float fell from 7.2% as of Dec. 29, 2020, to 5.8% as of Feb. 16, 2021, but the amount of money in short interest positions rose by about 4.1% over the same timeframe, Dusaniwsky's analysis found.

How it works: "If an observer was just looking at the number of chips you are betting they would surmise that you were reducing your bets, but an observer looking at the dollar value of your bets would understand that the size of your bet was increasing," Dusaniwsky said.

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