Short Selling Levels Down. Is This a Surprise?

by: David Enke

It appears that short selling levels have receded at both the NYSE and Nasdaq in the first two weeks of October, falling 8.3 percent on the NYSE and 10.5 percent on the Nasdaq (see WSJ article). As quoted in the article:

This decline in short interest, particularly the decline in brokerage stocks, is a continuation of a 12-week trend. Shorts have been large net buyers and therefore stabilizing these stocks, calling into question the rationale behind the SEC's ban on shorting.

You ban short selling and it results in less shorting and more short covering. Is this a surprise? As for refuting the rationale behind the SEC decision, I am not sure the trend is really calling the ban into question. If anything, the trend supports the decision (even if for other reasons it was short-sighted - no pun intended, see previous posts here and here).

Of course, one could argue that the ban was lifted October 8th, therefore the second week of short interest declines shows that the ban was not necessary to reverse the trend. Yet given the SEC's recent proclivity to change the rules at the drop of a hat, not to mention the significant market decline (and recovery and decline) over the last few weeks, it appears likely that only a few brave traders would take such a position, even if it seems to make sense.

I suspect that someday rationality will re-enter the picture, but it probably will not happen until the short selling cuffs are taken off the invisible hand of the free markets and thrown away for good.