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March 10, 2010 Wednesday 14:48 PM EST
SECTION: NEWS & ANALYSIS; Financial Services
LENGTH: 469 words
HEADLINE: Bank of America Short Interest Abates
BYLINE: Dan Freed, TheStreet.com Senior Writer
NEW YORK (TheStreet) — Short interest in Bank of America (BAC:NYSE) fell sharply in the second half of February, consistent with the stock’s strong performance during that time, The share appreciation has carried over to March, and Bank of America shares were up nearly 12% year-to-date through Tuesday’s close. The stock was rising 2.5% to $17.22 in recent trades.While Bank of America remained among a handful of the most-shorted tickers on the New York Stock Exchange, it fell from second to sixth place on the list, behind Citigroup (C:NYSE), Sprint Nextel (S:NYSE), Ford Motor Co. (F:NYSE) and a pair of exchange-traded funds. Overall short interest for Bank of America fell to 122 million shares, from 344 million during the previous two-week period. The figure represents its lowest total since 76 million in November.In contrast to Bank of America, Citigroup(C:NYSE) saw an increase in short interest for at least the seventh straight time since I began tracking the data. Citigroup short interest now stands above 482 million. But that did not stop Citigroup shares from gaining nearly 7% in the second half of February.Citigroup has gained further momentum in March. One important catalyst appears to be positive comments by Fairholme Funds manager Bruce Berkowitz who told Fortune Magazine in a story published on Tuesday that Citigroup shareholders are “not going to lose,” by investing in the stock. With his newly disclosed $700 million stake, Berkowitz joined other investing heavyweights such as George Soros and John Paulson on the long side. Citigroup is also seeing heavy interest for an offering of $2 billion worth of trust preferred securities. The shares are now up more than 15% year-to-date.Nonetheless, short sellers of Citigroup may be trying to position themselves ahead of an expected massive share sale by the U.S. Treasury. The Treasury owns 7.7 billion shares of Citigroup, which it can begin selling March 16. Charlie Gasparino of Fox Business News reported during Tuesday’s session that the the U.S. government is already discussing plans to begin unwinding its roughly 27% stake in the company, possibly within the next three months.Other heavily-shorted financial companies listed on the New York Stock Exchange are Fannie Mae (FNM:NYSE), Freddie Mac (FRE:NYSE), Regions Financial (RF:NYSE) and General Electric (GE:NYSE).Aside from Bank of America, NYSE-listed companies that saw a big change in short interest from the prior two week period included Xerox Corp. (XRX:NYSE) and “B” shares of Berkshire Hathaway(BRK.B:NYSE). Xerox short interest fell to 34 million from 87 million, while the Berkshire B-class shares, which underwent a 50-for-1 split in January, saw a doubling of short interest to 30 million from 15 million in the prior period.— Written by Dan Freed in New York.
LOAD-DATE: March 11, 2010