ETF Short Sellers Targeting Bond ETFs As Interest Rates Rise

Tech stocks once again led the market lower on Wednesday as the difficult 2022 for Wall Street continued. But bad news in the market for ETF investors is good news for ETF short sellers.

There is currently $241 billion in aggregate ETF short interest in the U.S. market, according to S3 Partners. S3 analyst Ihor Dusaniwsky said Wednesday that ETF short interest has decreased by $13.9 billion in the past 30 days.

Most Shorted ETFs: By far the most heavily shorted ETF is the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust NYSE:SPY. The SPY ETF tracks the S&P 500 and represents a simple bet against the U.S. stock market and/or a hedge against long positions in U.S. stocks. Here are the top four most shorted U.S. ETFs, according to S3:

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  • SPY ETF, $69.4 billion in short interest.
  • PowerShares QQQ Trust, Series 1 NASDAQ:QQQ, $22.7 billion in short interest.
  • iShares Russell 2000 Index NYSE:IWM, $18.7 billion in short interest.
  • iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond ETF NYSE:HYG, $8.1 billion in short interest.

Recent Short Seller Targets: Overall, Dusaniwsky said traders have been ramping up bets against bond ETFs as interest rates rise.

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"The $3.34 billion of net ETF short selling over the past 30 days saw the biggest moves in the 'hedging ETFs' with the Spider S&P 500 ETF (SPY), iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corp Bond ETF NYSE:LQD and iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF NYSE:TLT having $6.2 billion of new short selling over the last thirty days and the iShares Russell 3000 ETF (IWM) with $1.9 billion of short covering," he said.

In addition to the IWM ETF, short sellers have also been aggressively covering bets against the Consumer Staples Select Sector SPDR Fund NYSE:XLP, iShares Expanded Tech-Software Sector ETF BATS:IGV and Invesco S&P 500 Eql Wght ETF NYSE:RSP funds as well.

Finally, for investors looking for the next ETF short squeeze candidate, S3 ranked the following four funds as the most crowded short trades, based on S3's Crowded Score metric:

  • Invesco Senior Loan ETF NYSE:BKLN, 92.5 Crowded Score.
  • IWM ETF, 87.5 Crowded Score.
  • HYG ETF, 87.5 Crowded Score.
  • SPDR S&P Retail ETF NYSE:XRT, 87.5 Crowded Score.

Benzinga's Take: The general theme of the information above is that investors are betting against bond ETFs, likely in anticipation of higher interest rates ahead. At the same time, short sellers appear to be dialing back their exposure to consumer staples and software stocks.

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