Despite BlackBerry doing a pretty solid job of rescuing itself from what would otherwise be inescapable death with the launch of BlackBerry 10, the stock market continues to bet against the company in larger numbers.
As of mid-May, a grand total of 170.6 million shares of BlackBerry were sold short out of a total share count of 515 million. Shares that are sold short have been sold by someone who borrowed them, sold them, and must buy them back later. The shorter is betting the stock will go down, profiting on the downside just in the same way that a normal shareholder profits from a stock’s upside.
The amount of shorted stock is almost mind blowing. Keep in mind there are a few large shareholders out there such as Prem Watsa and Mike Lazaridis who aren’t trading at all. Thompson Reuters reports the “float” at 485 million. Float simply means the number of shares available to be traded (i.e. total shares excluding restricted shares such as insider holdings.)
Doing the math on this, it means 35% of BlackBerry stock is sold short. That’s a hugely bearish sign.
Either the shorts are right, or BlackBerry is on a comeback path and it’s about to get very painful for the bear crowd. Time will tell. But it’s quite obvious that a huge short interest alone does not mean the stock is headed south.
Just look at Tesla. In March the short interest was 32 million, while the float was about 74 million. Tesla’s share count is higher than 74 million, but Elon Musk, the co-founder and CEO, owns 24% of the company. Anyway, those following the Tesla story have seen the stock surge from the mid $30 level to over $100 since this peak short position. In other words, the shorts have witnessed a tsunami of pain since that time. But it hasn’t stopped them. Tesla’s short volume was still 23 million in May. Down, but still huge.
So here we are. The BlackBerry Q10 is in US store shelves. The reviews have been stellar. The average selling price (ASP) is attractive from the company's perspective. The gross margin is bound to be strong. I think BlackBerry is setup to post some very strong financial results in the coming months. But I could be wrong. We could be seeing a huge drop in subscribers as BBOS users migrate away to cheaper Androids. We could be seeing a higher than expected drop in service revenue. A bunch of bad things could be happening that I’m not pricing in.
But I think the typical short seller simply believes that BlackBerry can’t survive in a world powered by iOS and Android.
The next set of financial results will come out later this month. But until then, BlackBerry will be on the defense as Apple hits WWDC and releases iOS7 ... and who knows what Android has in store for now.
Anyway - it’s interesting to talk about short term stock dynamics, but they don’t really matter to the business. Thorsten and team are running the company for growth and success, and that does not mean pleasing Wall Street in any particular quarter. It means executing on a long term strategy.
Just like Tesla showed, short volume can be irrelevant. Produce great products and sell them at a profit. Focus on your customers. The profits will follow, and the stock market will follow further behind. Short interest is an expression of Wall Street’s opinion. That opinion isn’t always right.