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Expand chart
Data: S3 Partners; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The marijuana industry has quietly been having a very strong 2019, and it could push even higher.

The big picture: The nascent industry has drawn an outsized share of short sellers who are betting the stocks will fall in value. Short sellers, by and large, say they are not bearish on the business, but believe the companies' valuations are wildly high, making them good short bets.

  • Tuesday's reefer rally, however, has put short sellers in a position where they'll need to double down or bow out of their positions.
  • Canadian marijuana company Aphria announced a deal to produce and sell medical cannabis patches developed by scientists at MIT, and Aurora Cannabis announced an expansion into Portugal.

Details: Shorts had been up $21 million in mark-to-market profits, but headlines Tuesday of new breakthroughs poised to boost the industry pummeled them with $213 million of mark-to-market losses. They are now down $192 million for the month and $1.78 billion for the year, according to S3 Partners managing director of Predictive Analytics Ihor Dusaniwsky.

  • The ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF has risen 47.5% year-to-date and the Horizons Marijuana Life Sciences ETF is up 51.5% on the year.
  • "If losses for cannabis short sellers continue to mount, we should see continued short covering and added upward price pressure boosting the profits of a growing community of long shareholders," said Dusaniwsky.

The bottom line: Short sellers borrow stock with the intention of buying it later at a lower price and pocketing the difference. But with an average stock borrowing fee of 15% and mounting gains in the cannabis sector, it's getting very expensive to hold onto short positions.

Go deeper: Sin industries like marijuana and sports betting could shine in 2019

Go deeper

Updated 8 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."

Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers

President Biden speaking from Eisenhower Executive Office Building on Jan. 21. Photo: Yuri Gripas/Abaca/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge in Texas blocked the Biden administration from enforcing its coronavirus vaccine mandate for federal workers on Friday, citing the outcome of last week's Supreme Court ruling that nullified the administration's vaccine-or-test requirement for large employers.

Why it matters: It's a blow to President Biden's efforts to increase the U.S.' vaccination rates, though much of the federal workforce has already been vaccinated against the virus.