Earlier this year, many investors were calling Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) the short of the century. And they were right; Netflix's business soon began to self-destruct, and short investors who had weathered the rapid rise in Netflix shares to $300 were amply rewarded by a crash below $70.
However, today there is an even bigger slam dunk short opportunity: AMR, the parent company of American Airlines. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy last Tuesday (11/29), listing $24.7 billion in assets and $29.6 billion in debts (and continuing to hemorrhage cash). The debts are primarily related to underfunded pension plans, absorbed operating losses from the past ten years, and aircraft mortgages. When the company filed, its shares quite properly plunged from their already depressed price around $1.60 to as low as 20 cents per share.
If you still nurtured any belief that financial markets are rational, you would be surprised to note that investors who bought AMR shares at their lows last week had a five-bagger by Wednesday morning of this week. AMR shares traded up to $1.04 around mid-day Wednesday. Some of this buying activity is presumably related to investors covering short positions over the past few days. However, this alone cannot explain the magnitude of the jump in AMR shares; apparently, some investors are actually opening long positions in AMR.
This sort of speculation makes no sense whatsoever. Investors holding the stock today are just hoping to flip their shares to somebody more gullible than them in an hour, a day, or a week (hopefully at a better price). But the fact is that the shares are worth the same amount today as they were worth at this time last week: zero dollars and no cents. After the secured creditors assert claims on their collateral and unsecured creditors line up to take whatever they can get, there will be nothing left over for ordinary shareholders. Unless new CEO Tom Horton finds $10 billion stashed away in a couch in the executive suite, the remaining long investors will never see a penny.
There's a catch, though; shorting AMR is such a slam dunk that it is becoming very difficult to borrow shares to short. (Shorting a stock means that you're selling shares you don't actually own, so you need to borrow them from someone first). This has happened to other companies with high short interest and a small public float, like Sears Holdings (NASDAQ:SHLD). If you can get your hands on AMR shares to short at a reasonable rate, though, this is about as easy as it gets. On the other hand, if you are still long the stock, I highly encourage you to do yourself a favor and get out while the getting is good!
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, but may initiate a short position in AMR over the next 72 hours.