"Short interest" is one of the most interesting pieces of stock data that you might pay little or no attention to. But this little metric of negative sentiment, while popular among traders, can be valuable even to buy-and-hold investors who never want to place a single bearish bet.
If you believe a stock will rise, you buy it. Easy. But what if you're bearish on a company's prospects and want to profit off that belief? A popular technique is short selling: To sell a stock short, you borrow shares so you can immediately turn around and sell them. You wait for shares to fall in price, then buy them back and return those shares to the lender. Your profit is the difference between the price you sold and the price you bought back.
But that gamble can go wrong - to the delight of bullish investors. Short sellers incur losses when the stock's price goes higher. Also, time is against you when you short a stock, because you pay interest when you borrow shares. If you want to exit your short trade, you have to buy back shares, which in turn drives the stock price higher. That might force other short sellers to cut their losses, leading to a virtuous cycle of buying called a "short squeeze."
That's why short interest (how many shares are currently sold short to bet against a company) matters. There's no concrete level, but anything above 10% of the float, which is the number of shares available for public trading, is worth watching. If you're a conservative, buy-and-hold investor who hates volatility, you might want to avoid stocks with high short interest. If you're an aggressive investor, however, you might consider buying these stocks in the hope that a small bit of positive news will trigger a short squeeze, netting large returns in a short time.
Here, we'll look at seven heavily shorted stocks to watch. These companies have short interest ranging anywhere from 14% to 96%, and many of them are the kinds of hot-moving growth stocks that are typical among short-selling targets.SEE ALSO: The 20 Best Stocks to Buy for 2020