Tesla’s worst-ever year brings $17 bln windfall for shorts

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Investors betting against Tesla Inc. are getting the big bonanza they have been waiting for, with the electric-vehicle maker set to record its worst annual performance on record.

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Short sellers in the company — or bearish investors who stand to gain when an asset’s price falls — are poised to reap mark-to-market profits of about $17 billion, making Tesla the most profitable short trade of the year, data from S3 Partners shows.

Tesla has tumbled more than 42 percent in December alone, driving it to a loss of 68 percent this year — marking a radical about face for a stock that surged during the low-rate era of the pandemic.

It’s a rare victory for the shorts, whose 89 percent return comes after several years of significant losses, S3’s Ihor Dusaniwsky said. About 2.9 percent of Tesla’s free float is held short, according to S3 data.

Tesla has faced a tumultuous year, with investors fleeing risk assets over concerns about geopolitical uncertainty, high inflation, rising interest rates and a possible recession.

Add to that worries that Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk’s focus will be diverted to his recently acquired social-media company, Twitter, just as demand for electric vehicles is set to take a hit.

Dusaniwsky expects short selling to persist until the stock reaches a bottom. But analysts and investors are still struggling to see a bottom, especially as the company is due to report fourth-quarter delivery numbers early next month and has been offering large buyer incentives.

Tesla shares rose 3.5 percent in premarket trading on Thursday.

Even if share price begins to recover, its notorious volatility could continue to linger, according to S3’s Dusaniwsky.

“When Tesla’s stock begins to tick upwards, there should be a flurry of short covering which will help boost its stock price higher and quicker as shorter-term short sellers look to realize their outsized mark-to-market profits before they evaporate, he said.

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