The best thing about the stock market is that you can make money in either direction. Historically, stock indexes have tended to trend up over the long term. But when you look at individual stocks, you’ll find plenty that lose money over the long haul. According to hedge fund institution Blackstar Funds, even with dividends included, between 1983 and 2006, 64% of stocks underperformed the Russell 3000, a broad-scope market index.
A large influx of short-sellers shouldn’t be a condemning factor for any company, but it could be a red flag from traders that something may not be as cut-and-dried as it appears. Let’s look at three companies that have seen a rapid increase in the number of shares sold short and see whether traders are blowing smoke or if their worry has some merit.
|Company||Short Increase July 15 to July 31||Short Shares as a % of Float|
|SAP AG (ADR) (NYSE:SAP)||54.4%||0.8%|
|The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (NYSE:MW)||80.9%||8.5%|
|Lender Processing Services, Inc. (NYSE:LPS)||70.7%||1%|
A cloudy outlook for software
There’s little debating that the transition from internal-based computer systems to cloud-based data centers is going to revolutionize small and large businesses and drastically improve business workflow. The problem is that going from point A to point B is taking a lot longer than expected.
Application software that manages and/or analyzes data in the cloud space has struggled in recent quarters as government austerity measures in both the U.S. and throughout much of Europe are constraining, or flat out delaying, new orders. Oracle Corporation (NYSE:ORCL), often looked at as one of the more dominant players in this space, has now delivered two straight quarters of cloud-licensing disappointment. In its fourth-quarter results announced in June, Oracle Corporation (NYSE:ORCL) saw cloud-based revenue trickle up by just 1% and commented that the majority of weakness actually came from previously fast-growing emerging markets.
That news bodes poorly for SAP AG (ADR) (NYSE:SAP) and is probably a good indication of why short-sellers had been regularly adding to their positions prior to its second-quarter earnings results released last month. As expected, SAP AG (ADR) (NYSE:SAP) showed modest cloud-subscription growth, but delivered disappointing results from its Asia Pacific region, where cloud-based revenue dipped 7%. Furthermore, while essentially sticking to its full-year growth forecast, it subtly guided investors to expect its double-digit growth to come in at the lower end of forecasts without saying those exact words.
As with Oracle Corporation (NYSE:ORCL), I can see SAP AG (ADR) (NYSE:SAP)’s earnings weakness over the near term continuing; however, I see significant opportunity five or 10 years down the road for this company to be trading higher than where it is now.
Investors don’t like the way this looks
What’s the return policy if we don’t like the way this looks? That’s what investors of The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (NYSE:MW) could be asking themselves after a very rocky 2013 that saw the company’s CEO and iconic head for decades, George Zimmer, fired.
In June, shares of The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (NYSE:MW) were whipsawed after news of Zimmer’s firing hit the newswires. Zimmer claimed he was pushed out of his role as a director while the The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (NYSE:MW)’s board claimed that Zimmer was unwilling to hand over the reins of control even though he was no longer CEO. Zimmer’s ouster certainly raises doubts about The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (NYSE:MW)’s advertising campaign moving forward, given that Zimmer and his catchphrase had become synonymous with the brand. Will the company be able to differentiate itself? Short-sellers aren’t so sure.
Another complicating factor here is that rival Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc (NASDAQ:JOSB) updated its second-quarter outlook late last week and its guidance didn’t quite match Wall Street’s expectations. The company actually noted that total sales for the quarter declined 11% year over year, and that EPS is expected to come in at $0.49 to $0.53 as compared to the current consensus of $0.68. This could be particularly worrisome news for The Men’s Wearhouse, Inc. (NYSE:MW), since they’re often competing for a very similar customer, and given that Men’s Wearhouse has ongoing transition concerns with Zimmer’s departure. For now, I’d say short-sellers just may have the upper hand.