Short Interest Generally Wanes in High-Yield Dividend Stocks

24/7 Wall St.

The short interest data for the final two weeks of February is out, and the results are somewhat surprising when it comes to the top high-yield safe dividends out there. Some of the changes were substantial, and it seems as though hedgers and short sellers may have made their moves for 2014 a bit early.

It has been said before, and we will say it again. It takes much more conviction to short sell a high-yield dividend stock over a low-yield or non-dividend payer because the short seller is on the hook for dividend payments around ex-dividend dates, as well as the broker loan-call rate to borrow the stock.

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Altria Group Inc. (MO) saw a sharp decline in short interest to 14.96 million shares, a drop of 12.8%, and less than 1% of Altria's total float. This number is roughly half the number of shares held short just four months earlier. Days to cover is two. Altria's yield is back down to about 5.2% since the stock is back within about 2% of a 52-week high.

AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) saw its short interest rise 3.2% to 176.57 million shares, about 3.4% of the stock's float. Days to cover is five. The company's continuing battle with T-Mobile has turned into an old-fashioned price war, and while AT&T can certainly hold out longer than T-Mobile, such a holdout will nevertheless be costly. The stock closed at $32.23 Tuesday, in a 52-week range of $31.74 to $39.00. Shares were up about 0.7% in the two weeks since the last report on short interest. AT&T's dividend yield is 5.7%.

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General Electric Co. (GE) saw a sharp drop in short interest to 73.68 million shares at the end of February, down 7.5% in the two-week period. Days to cover is two. Shares are up about 2% in the two-week period. GE's yield is back up to 5.4%, as the shares are down nearly 6% year to date.

Kimberly-Clark Corp. (KMB) saw a drop of 3.4% in short interest to 7.6 million shares. About 2% of the company's float is held short, and days to cover is four. The stock's yield is about 3.1%, after a dividend hike on February 25. Shares closed Tuesday at $109.05, in a 52-week range of $91.44 to $111.68.

Merck & Co. Inc. (MRK) saw its short interest slide 0.8% to 27.65 million shares. Days to cover is three. Back in May of last year, more than 93 million shares were held short; it is a new day at Merck. Merck's dividend yield is 3.1%

Pfizer Inc. (PFE), like Merck, has seen short interest drop dramatically, from a high of more than 335 million shares last June to just 53.57 million in the second half of February. For the period, Pfizer's short interest fell 5.4%, and days to cover is two. Pfizer's yield is 3.2%.

Procter & Gamble Co. (PG) saw a move lower to 22.96 million shares short, down 1.3% in the two-week period. About 0.8% of the company's shares are held short, and days to cover is three. For the past year, P&G's short interest has moved around in a fairly narrow range between about 19 million and 25 million shares short. P&G's dividend yield is 3.1%.

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Verizon Communications Inc. (VZ) saw a major dip in its short interest during the latter two weeks of February. Short interest dropped 39.2% to 73.07 million shares and just one day to cover. Unlike AT&T, Verizon was able to avoid the price war that T-Mobile was heating up -- at least for a while. Verizon did finally succumb. Verizon's dividend yield is currently much lower than AT&T's at 4.5%.

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