Why Short Interest in AT&T Keeps Marching Higher

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For the two-week short interest reporting period that ended April 30, short sellers added more than 21.5 million shares (12.6%) of AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) to their positions. More than 192.5 million shares were short, representing 3.1% of the stock’s total float.

For short sellers, AT&T is a pretty good play. The stock has sunk to a new 52-week low 23 times in the past 52 weeks. And since April 30, AT&T stock has dropped another 4% on top of the nearly 7% it dropped between April 13 and April 30.

One drag on the stock has been its bid to acquire Time Warner in a deal that will cost the company $85 billion and that federal regulators and the Trump administration have weighed in against.

When the company reported first-quarter results on April 25, earnings per share and revenues both missed consensus estimates and subscribers to the company’s wireless network fell more than consensus estimates as well. The shares were knocked down by about 4% following the report.

Then competitors Sprint and T-Mobile announced a merger on April 29 that would create a company with more than 127 million subscribers, still well behind AT&T’s 143 million, but close enough to threaten the larger firm’s subscriber base, particularly at a time when management’s attention is on how to spend $85 billion.

All in all, it wasn’t a good two weeks for AT&T. And it hasn’t gotten any better since. Now the company is being shaken by revelations that it paid Trump lawyer Michael Cohen $800,000 between October 2017 and January 2018 to help it understand, according to a memo to its employees, “how the President and his administration might approach a wide range of policy issues important to the company, including regulatory reform at the FCC … .” That would be the same FCC that is pushing back on the proposed Time Warner deal.

In Thursday’s premarket trading, the stock was up about 0.5% to $31.55, in a 52-week range of $31.17 to $39.80. The low was posted yesterday. Analysts have put a 12-month price target of $38.67 on the stock.

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