Hedge funds are betting against British shopping mall operator Hammerson

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British shopping mall operator Hammerson was the most shorted U.K.-listed company in July, with 13.9% of its stock held short by nine investment firms.

Hedge fund Caxton Europe held the largest short position with 4.33% of Hammerson’s shares, as of July 15, according to new research from exchange-traded fund provider GraniteShares.

Shares in Hammerson, which have fallen more than 76% in the year to date, were down 8.04% at 11:30 a.m. GMT.

Short sellers place bets on shares that they expect to fall in price. They pay a fee to borrow shares in a company and then sell them in the hope of buying them back at a lower price and pocketing the profit.

Hammerson HMSO, -4.85%, which owns some of Britain’s biggest shopping centers including London’s Brent Cross, has been hit hard by the pandemic, which has closed thousands of retail stores, forcing some into administration. Rival shopping center giant Intu Properties called in administrators in June after failing to secure a deal with creditors to restructure its finances.

In July, Hammerson received approval in July for the issue of up to £300 million under the U.K. government’s COVID Corporate Financing Facility, as it sought to ease liquidity issues caused by the impact of the pandemic, increasing its maximum liquidity to £1.5 billion. To further ease its cash crunch, an additional £300 million was drawn on its revolving credit facilities.

A spokesperson for Hammerson told MarketWatch that several shareholders had also substantially increased their holdings in the stock. Lighthouse Capital now holds over 15% and APG, a long-term shareholder, has increased its ownership to over 19%.

The next most-shorted U.K.-listed companies were Metro Bank MTRO, -2.47%, Royal Mail RMG, -0.11%, and Premier Oil PMO, -2.33%, where the respective short positions were 9.5%, 9.5% and 8.7% respectively, GraniteShares research showed.

Read:Hedge funds are betting against U.K. stocks — here’s why

Fund manager GLG Partners, which is owned by Man Group EMG, -0.26%, had the highest number of short positions on U.K.-listed companies, with 21. This was followed by Marshall Wace, AQR Capital Management, JPMorgan Asset Management and Citadel Europe with 20, 18, 17 and 11 short positions respectively.

The analysis shows that the number of net short positions reported to the U.K. financial regulator the Financial Conduct Authority in the first five months of this year was around 25% higher than for the same period last year.

“This year’s huge market volatility — fueled by tensions in the Gulf, the global coronavirus pandemic and the related economic fallout — has led to opportunities to take short positions. In this environment, companies facing difficulties, like Hammerson and Metro Bank, have seen their share price under particular pressure,” said Will Rhind, GraniteShares Chief Executive.

Tullow Group TLW, -2.84%, which in April sold its stake in a Ugandan project to French energy giant Total TOT, +2.38% for $575 million to help reduce its debt, was the fifth-most shorted U.K. stock, followed by the world’s second-largest cinema chain Cineworld CINE, -2.80% in sixth place, and builder Carillion CLLN, -28.94% in seventh.

Read:Caught out by big market swings, traders rushed to short U.K. stocks in March.

However, Rhind noted that more positive sentiment has led to rallies in stock prices that more active investors have tried to capture. “We have certainly observed this type of behavior among ETP [exchange-traded product] investors with a stock like Rolls-Royce RR, -2.83%.

He added: “Looking ahead, various factors, whether it be U.S.-China relations, the looming U.S. presidential election or U.K.-EU negotiations, suggest that markets might continue to see heightened levels volatility over the coming months.”