Tesla Shorts Losing Billions — Again

A strong earnings report and a new, big investor have stymied the short sellers (one of whom publicly changed his view).

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

On a day that the Dow briefly slipped into correction territory, Tesla shares continued a recent surge that is pummeling short sellers.

As a result, Tesla’s short sellers — some of whom just a few weeks ago were on the verge of breaking even — are now deep in the red again.

By the end of last week, Tesla shorts were down $2.7 billion in mark-to-market losses, and about 1.2 million shares were covered on Friday alone, according to Ihor Dusaniwsky, managing director of predictive analytics at S3 Partners, a financial technology and analytics firm.

He added that with the stock price rise, Tesla’s short interest is back up to $10.97 billion, with 33.16 million shares short, for 26.01 percent of the float.

The Tesla stock rally’s sustained momentum is a result of one big short seller reversing course, a surprise quarterly profit, and the support of a major technology investor, Oracle’s Larry Ellison.

It also comes in spite of an October 26 report by the Wall Street Journal that Tesla is under a criminal investigation by the FBI as to whether the company misstated production figures regarding its Model 3 autos. Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk recently settled a separate civil charge by the Securities and Exchange Commission, paying a total of $40 million.

Tesla shares gained 28 percent over the past week, closing at $334.85 on Monday afternoon. The stock had fallen as low as $250 on October 8. That’s the breakeven price for at least one famous Tesla short, Kynikos Associates founder Jim Chanos.

Tesla’s surge also came as the rest of the market swooned, with the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index ending last week down about 3 percent. The S&P 500 is now in correction territory — which is down at least 10 percent from a recent high — for the year.

The Tesla shift began last Monday, when short seller Andrew Left, of Citron Research, reversed his short position and went long the stock.

“With a great deal of analysis and due diligence ...we can say for the first time, Citron is long Tesla as the Model 3 is a proven hit and many of the TSLA warning signs have proven not to be significant,” he wrote in a research report on October 23. Instead of being eaten by rivals, he said, “Tesla is destroying the competition.”

“TSLA is not just pulling customers from BMW and Mercedes but also from Toyota and Honda,” he wrote. “Like a magic trick, while everyone is focused on Elon smoking weed, he is quietly smoking the whole automotive industry.”

In Citron’s worst-case scenario, Left sees the stock going to $599.

Left published his analysis just after Tesla announced it would release its third quarter earnings early. As he expected, the move was done because the numbers were better than expected.

During the third quarter, Tesla posted net income of $311.5 million, compared with a loss of $619.4 million a year ago. After one-time adjustments, the automaker earned $516 million during the quarter, marking Tesla’s third profitable quarter.

On Thursday — the day after Tesla released those earnings — Oracle founder Larry Ellison, whom Bloomberg estimates is worth $51 billion, said he had built up a stake in Tesla and was its second-largest investor. He also defended Musk, whom he called a friend.

“This guy is landing rockets,” Ellison said, according to a Bloomberg report of his comments, which were made during an Oracle investor call. “You know, he’s landing rockets on robot drone rafts in the ocean. And you’re saying he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Well, who else is landing rockets? You ever land a rocket on a robot drone? Who are you?”

Meanwhile, S3’s Dusaniwsky thinks that Tesla short covering “may accelerate.” The stock’s momentum could “shake out the short sellers with less conviction who are still in the black since The Tweet on August 7th,” he wrote in an email on Monday. “We are seeing net short covering so far this morning, but nothing in size that will be moving Tesla’s stock price significantly — today’s stock price move is due to long shareholders bidding up the price looking for the Tesla rally to continue.”

Later, Dusaniwsky said the short covering continued during the day, with about 500,000 shares covered.

But while Tesla was surging, the top tech stocks have been crumbling, giving some relief to short sellers. S3 reports that Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google — the so-called FAANG stocks — fell 4.7 percent last week, 3.6 percent on Friday alone, after Amazon and Alphabet both announced poor quarterly results.

“While long shareholders incurred large losses from these widely held stocks, short sellers made $1.62 billion in mark-to-market profits last week,” Dusaniwsky wrote in another report Monday.

The reported added that while Tesla remains the top short in the market, these four stocks are also in the list of the top ten most-shorted stocks.

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