The UK's 12 most shorted stocks revealed: Carillion tops the list, with several household names filling in the ranks

 
Lucy White
Troubled construction firm Carillion was the most shorted stock (Source: Terry Robinson, Creative Commons)

It's not a list which many corporates would be happy to top, but Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management has today released a ranking of the 12 most shorted stocks in the UK.

Construction company Carillion topped the list, with 27.2 per cent of its equity having been shorted.

High street names such as Debenhams, Marks and Spencer and Sainsbury's also featured.

Read more: Hedge funds bag £80m on huge crash in construction giant Carillion's share price

The dirty dozen

The company Percentage of equity which has been shorted
Carillion 27.2 per cent
Ocado Group 19.5 per cent
WM Morrison Supermarkets 16.1 per cent
Wood Group 12.3 per cent
Tullow Oil 12.2 per cent
Debenhams 12 per cent
Marks and Spencer 10.8 per cent
Mitie Group 10.6 per cent
Lancashire Holdings 9 per cent
Pets at Home 8.8 per cent
Sainsbury's 8.7 per cent
Hansteen Holding 8.3 per cent

What is shorting?

Shorting is a process where short sellers – usually hedge funds and investment banks – look for a company they believe is overvalued and then work a profit from selling their shares.

The short seller “borrows” stock from a large institution, such as a pension fund, then sells it at the current market price in the hope that the share price will later fall.

This would then allow them to buy the stock in the future from the large institution at the lower price, turning a profit.

Short selling is “sometimes criticised by corporates who feel they are being picked upon unfairly by speculators hoping to benefit from declines in their share price”, according to Canaccord's Simon McGarry.

“But if short selling wasn’t allowed, traders with negative views of certain stocks would only be able to avoid them. Instead, short selling allows hedge funds and other sophisticated market participants to generate returns based on their negative views of a stock,” he explained.

Read more: Borussia Dortmund bus bomber suspect shorted stock in the Bundesliga club

The Carillion story

Canaccord's research took place just before Carillion announced a slew of bad news, culminating in the resignation of its chief executive, which caused its share price to plummet.

“The Carillion story just goes to show that where there is high interest from hedge funds, there is inherent underlying weakness in the company,” said McGarry.

“Given recent performance, in all likelihood the short positions have now been closed.”

He added that the hedge funds had been focusing on a variety of issues including a declining order book and decreased revenue visibility.

Added to this, there were fears that Carillion's balance sheet was becoming increasingly stretched due to a substantial pension deficit and the slow progress of the management's debt reduction plan.

“The hedge funds were hoping management would be forced to cut the dividend, leading to a sell-off in the share price, as yield hungry investors look elsewhere for a source of income. The hedge funds were right,” said McGarry.

Read more: Checking out: Are the Burberry short-sellers short-sighted?

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