It's been a long time since the pessimism has been this thick when it comes to Sirius XM Holdings (NASDAQ: SIRI), judging by the number of people betting against the satellite radio provider. Sirius XM kicked off this month with nearly 275.5 million shares sold short, its highest tally on that front in more than a year.
Sirius XM has always been a popular short. The stock's low price and heavy trading volume make it a compelling target for speculators. The prevailing though perpetually debunked myth that the satellite-radio monopoly is championing transitory technology offers up a bearish thesis that seems sound on the surface. Sirius XM Holdings is the most-shorted NASDAQ-listed stock, and the race isn't even close, with less than half the number of shares sold short for the silver medalist. However, there's a lot more to Sirius XM than meets the pessimistic eye.
Image source: Sirius XM Holdings.
Shaking your head at the naysayers
Sirius XM is an odd stock to bet against. For starters, it has the enviable streak of delivering positive returns for its shareholders in each of the past 10 years. The shares are also trading modestly higher again in 2019.
This is also a dividend-paying stock. Sirius XM's payouts may not amount to much given its current yield of 0.8%, but it is a trickle of income that folks shorting a stock have to pay out. Sirius XM has boosted its quarterly distributions in back-to-back years. Financially successful stocks that are returning money to shareholders through regular dividend checks seem to be a bigger risk for the shorts than the longs.
A possible explanation for the uptick in shorts could be its recently concluded purchase of Pandora (NYSE: P) in an all-stock deal. Arbitragers could've bought Pandora and shorted the deal-equivalent number of Sirius XM stocks to lock in the modest discount available to Pandora investors. We'll find out soon if that was the case. The Pandora deal closed the day after Sirius XM hit its year-high short position. We'll get a clearer snapshot of the situation when the exchanges report their mid-month tallies later this month.
The future for Sirius XM is bright. Growth is slowing, but it's hard to bet against a premium entertainment platform with more than 34 million subscribers. The Pandora acquisition will eat into Sirius XM's profitability in the near term, but it offers a great opportunity to expand its total audience while also making it a major player in streaming audio after its own online platform has failed to gain serious traction.
Betting against Sirius XM has historically been a lousy bet. Sirius XM has been one of the market's biggest winners over the past 10 years. It just completed a win-win acquisition that is hard not to like. Satellite radio has survived the connected car that was supposed to spell the end of the medium. All winning streaks eventually end, but now doesn't seem like the time that Sirius XM is about to prove mortal.
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