Short sellers target high-flying US technology stocks

Investors are ramping up bets against high-flying technology stocks including Google, Apple and Netflix despite short sellers nursing losses of almost $8bn already this year.

The S&P 500 technology index suffered a setback last week, but has still climbed more than 21 per cent in 2017, driving this year’s broader stock market rally. The so-called Faang stocks — Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google — account for much of those gains.

Yet some investors are sceptical the rising valuations can be sustained, and are ratcheting up their shorts — betting on share falls by borrowing shares to sell them and rebuy at a later date — on a host of big names.

“A lot of the tech names have led the market all year, and people are getting a little concerned,” said Wayne Wicker, chief investment officer of ICMA-RC, a pension fund. “Tech tends to lead the market up, but also down, and it wouldn’t be surprising if we start seeing some weakness.”

Tech companies account for half of the 20 most shorted names in the US stock market, with the level of short interest in the “tech 10” rising another $1.4bn in the past month to $41bn, according to S3 Partners, a financial analytics company.

Google, Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Intel and Facebook are all in S3’s list of the 10 most-shorted US stocks. IBM, Microsoft, Priceline and Nvidia are in the top 20. If electric carmaker Tesla, comfortably the most shorted stock in the US, is counted as a tech company, the short interest would rise to more than $50bn.

“We’ve never before seen half-trillion dollar companies growing at these rates, so people are still in disbelief about this,” said Eric Bannasch, founder of Cadian Capital, a tech-focused hedge fund. He points out that many tech companies are growing at a robust clip, but “understands the scepticism” around Tesla in particular.

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