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Betting Against Tech Is Finally a Winning Trade as Short Sellers Sit on $20 Billion Profit

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(Bloomberg) -- Betting against tech has become a winning trade, with short sellers sitting on billions in paper profits as growth stocks slump.

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A historic rout in the so-called FAANG cohort -- Facebook owner Meta Platforms Inc., Apple Inc., Amazon.com Inc., Netflix Inc. and Google parent Alphabet Inc. -- has delivered $19.8 billion in mark-to-market profits for investors speculating on declines as of June 30, according to data-analytics firm S3 Partners.

“It was difficult to short for a while, because a lot of liquidity hit the marketplace,” said Brad Lamensdorf, a portfolio manager of the AdvisorShares Ranger Equity Bear ETF. “However, the past year or so has been a really great environment for us.” Lamensdorf’s fund has returned 22% this year by shorting stocks.

The windfall has been a long time coming. Spectacular gains for tech megacaps over recent years resulted in paper losses of nearly $16 billion last year and almost $20 billion in 2020 for those shorting the FAANG group, according to S3’s calculations.

“The buy-the-dip mentality made it very difficult to short in the past, because even if you were right about bad news, no one cared,” said Bill Fleckenstein, president of Fleckenstein Capital. “People laughed off problems all throughout 2021, but that’s not the case anymore.”

The tide has turned for previously unstoppable tech giants, with the NYSE FANG+ Index down 31% and poised for its first annual decline on record, according to Bloomberg data going back to 2014. Investors have been fleeing growth stocks -- priced on earnings expected in the future -- in anticipation of further supersized interest rates hikes from the Federal Reserve and amid concerns about recession.

Short sellers borrow shares and sell them, hoping to buy them back at a lower price to profit from the difference. But getting the timing right is crucial. If share prices rise, they can lose money instead -- as was the case in 2020 and 2021, when the NYSE FANG+ Index soared.

Fleckenstein said he had stopped shorting in the past few years, even though many companies got “absurdly” priced, because quantitative easing prevented deep selloffs. “It has obviously gotten easier this year, though I still haven’t gotten too aggressive, since there’s so much volatility,” he said.

After years of outsized gains on optimism about big tech’s ability to continue its rapid growth, bets against the group have remained fairly small. Short interest as a percentage of total shares outstanding is less than 3% in all of the FAANG stocks, according to S3 data.

And given the nosedive already experienced this year -- with the Nasdaq 100 down about 28% -- it may get harder to make money betting on further declines for the sector. There also appears to be some optimism in the first three trading days of the second half of the year as the tech-heavy gauge adds almost 3% in that time period with investors embracing risk after the rout.

“The easy money has been made on the short side,” said Dennis Dick, head of markets structure and a proprietary trader at Bright Trading. “It’s gonna be tougher going forward.”

Tech Chart of the Day

Big Tech’s earnings dominance is set to take a break as only four US technology firms -- Alphabet, Apple, Microsoft Corp., and Meta Platforms -- are expected to be among the top-ten earners in the latest batch of earnings reports. That’s the lowest level in at least two years, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Top Tech Stories

  • The US is pushing the Netherlands to ban ASML Holding NV from selling to China mainstream technology essential in making a large chunk of the world’s chips, expanding its campaign to curb the country’s rise, according to people familiar with the matter.

    • ASML shares rose in Europe, amid a broader rebound for tech shares, with analysts saying that a full China chip tool sales ban is unlikely.

    • Washington’s latest move to restrain Beijing from fostering its chipmaking industry is powering China’s semiconductor stocks as the US restrictions could fire up support for homegrown technology.

  • Some of Wall Street’s biggest brokerages have reiterated their bullish calls for Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., suggesting more gains may be in store after the e-commerce giant surged from a mid-March low.

  • Hong Kong is likely to see more dual-traded companies shift toward primary listings in the financial hub as they seek inclusion in trading links with mainland China, according to the city’s exchange chief.

  • TikTok’s admission that some China-based workers have access to data on US users provided fresh ammunition to a Republican member of the Federal Communications Commission who is trying to get the video-sharing service dropped from major app stores.

  • Broadcom Inc.’s $61 billion deal for VMware Inc. will move forward after a rival bidder failed to emerge to break up the deal for the cloud-computing company during its so-called “go-shop” period, according to people familiar with the matter.

(Updates stock move in paragraph 10.)

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