Apple Stock Keeps Rising, Putting A Chokehold On Short-Sellers

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Apple stock is choking short-sellers after Goldman Sachs boosted its price target 13%, pushing the iPhone maker’s shares to new highs again and again. Analysts and investors are practically salivating over the yet-to-be revealed iPhone 8/ iPhone X, and they lapped up Apple management’s comments about services revenue doubling over the next four years.

Meanwhile, short interest in Apple stock rises along with the share price as bears bide their time and try to wait out the growing pain.

Apple stock target to $150

In a research note dated Feb. 13, Goldman Sachs analyst Simona Jankowski said she boosted her price target on Apple stock from $133 to $150 per share. She noted that it’s looking more and more like 3D sensing technology will be in the iPhone 8 this year, based on data points from Lumentum. This technology paves the way for the inclusion of augmented reality features on the device, marking a “significant step-up in innovation” for this year.

Her supply chain checks back up the other reports pointing to a third iPhone model with a massive 5.8-inch display being released this year. She sees starting prices of $649 and $769 for the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhone models for this year, which other analysts are calling the iPhone 7s and 7s Plus. Also like other reports from other sources, Jankowski’s checks suggest that the third model, called the iPhone 8 or iPhone X, will be priced higher than the other two models. Some reports have pegged the starting price at or above $1,000, although she didn’t specify a starting price tag.

The Goldman analyst’s price target boost for Apple stock is based on a higher multiple of 16 times (versus 14 times previously) due to an expected acceleration in earnings growth over the next couple of years.

Short-sellers burned by Apple stock

After touching a new record high on Monday, Apple stock hit another high on Tuesday and continued to climb, approaching $135 per share in the wake of Goldman’s price target lift. Apple stock is now up by more than 16% year to date, and short-sellers are down more than $71 million, according to data from financial analytics firm S3 Partners.

As is typical of short interest, the firm said interest in Apple stock was rising along with the stock price between 2009 and 2014 for risk management and hedging purposes in addition to simple short bets. However, over the last three years, short interest in Apple stock has been falling as the shares kept hitting new record highs, says S3.

Last year, short interest averaged $6.04 billion and traded between $4.4 billion and $6.9 billion, although it spiked to $10 billion in late March amid the stock’s lowest level in two years at $90.34. Short-sellers lost $432 million in total last year as Apple stock rose 9.93%.

Short-sellers are losing even bigger this year

Short interest in the name is down this year, but S3 Partners says portfolio managers’ losses on their $5.6 billion short or hedging position are much bigger. The firm said financing costs surpassed $2.1 million in the first six weeks of this year, but the mark to market P/L is a loss of $794.5 million. The shorts are down 14.26% year to date in total, net of financing.

With all the pain, it’s no surprise that few are just betting outright that Apple stock will fall. S3 said most current short interest in Apple stock is market-related portfolio heads or hedges for derivative securities. The firm added that core short interest in the name ranges from $4.5 billion to $7 billion, so in order to say there’s “an appreciable” number of short-sellers betting on a share price decline, interest would have to trend past $7 billion.

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