Nov. Short Report: Huge Spike In XLF Shorts

December 13, 2011

XLF bore the brunt of bearish sentiment among short sellers last month.

Short sellers embraced their version of the “risk-off” trade last month, increasing pressure on financial sector ETFs while covering short positions in gold in a clear reflection of the surging bearishness related to Europe's deepening debt crisis.

The Financial Select Sector SPDR (NYSEArca: XLF) bore the brunt of the short selling, while other heavily traded equity ETFs, notably the CurrencyShares Euro ETF (NYSEArca: FXE), actually saw falling short interest. That may have been because the Dow Jones industrial average’s powerful 490-point rally on the final day of the month flushed short sellers and hedgers out of their positions.

But for XLF, the die was cast in terms of short-selling. The number of XLF shares being shorted jumped by 36 percent last month, a reversal after short interest fell almost 18 percent in October. The percentage of XLF’s short interest relative to its total outstanding float meanwhile rose to 71 percent from 42 percent in October, according to data compiled by IndexUniverse.

The short-selling data were consistent with IndexUniverse’s  November Fund  Flows report, which showed that XLF was one of last month’s least-popular ETFs. Investors yanked $1.05 billion out of the fund, or about 20 percent of the $5.8 billion in assets under management at the start of the month. It appears short sellers just added insult to injury as eurozone policymakers dithered in the fact of crisis.

The flip side of rising short interest in XLF last month was falling short interest in gold, a reflection that gold’s safe haven status was in sharp focus last month. The number of shares short of the SPDR Gold Shares (NYSEArca: GLD) fell nearly 28 percent, lowering the precious metal with only 3.54 percent of its shares being shorted.

As was the case with XLF, the falling short interest in GLD was consistent with the fund’s rising popularity last month. It was the single most popular ETF in November, hauling in $3.13 billion in new assets, according to data compiled by IndexUniverse.

Pressure Remains On FXE

Even though the number of FXE shares being shorted fell about 3 percent last month, the ETF remains one of the more heavily shorted exchange-traded funds on the market.

It’s was No. 3 on IndexUniverse’s “Really Really Short” table, indicating that investors retain a substantial amount of pessimism about Europe’s debt crisis. The number of shares short amounted to 262 percent of its total outstanding float.

As noted, it’s entirely possible that the big rally on Nov. 30 may have led many short sellers to cover their positions, thus reversing in one day what might have otherwise been a month of rising short interest.

It’s important to remember that short interest data are buggy, and flawed, as IndexUniverse Director of Research Dave Nadig likes to say. For example, because of double-counting issues, it’s possible to have more shares reported short than actually exist in the market.

But that said, looking at the short data is still a decent way to gauge market sentiment.


Big Bets
Ticker Name % Float Short 1 Month % Change $Short ($, M)
SPY SPDR S&P 500 66.56 -3.10 57,219.08
IWM iShares Russell 2000 121.09 -7.41 16,324.54
QQQ PowerShares QQQ 27.46 0.97 6,624.41
XLE Energy Select SPDR 56.63 1.95 4,206.76
XLF Financial Select SPDR 71.01 36.35 3,166.19
XRT SPDR S&P Retail 437.76 0.18 3,043.29
GLD SPDR Gold 3.54 -27.64 2,584.31
EEM iShares MSCI Emerging Markets 7.16 -10.13 2,424.52
XOP SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production 240.18 -6.31 2,259.24
IYR iShares Dow Jones U.S. Real Estate 73.30 -2.05 2,174.56


Really Really Short
Ticker Name % Float Short 1 Month % Change $Short ($, M)
XRT SPDR S&P Retail 437.76 0.18 3,043.29
RTH Retail HOLDRS 347.65 -8.90 493.11
FXE CurrencyShares Euro 262.92 -2.95 1,002.98
XOP SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Exploration & Production 240.18 -6.31 2,259.24
DUST Direxion Daily Gold Miners Bear 3X 232.99 164.13 7.02
PPA PowerShares Aerospace & Defense Portfolio 219.94 -0.07 132.99
KRE SPDR S&P Regional Banking 213.64 -1.92 1,157.25
UGLD VelocityShares 3X Long Gold ETN 166.14 204.15 2.28
VXX iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN 158.08 6.20 1,501.72
RYH Rydex S&P Equal Weight Health Care 146.91 6.60 67.64


Data is believed to be accurate; however, transient market data is often subject to subsequent revision and correction by the exchanges.

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