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Selling Short


In finance, being short in an asset means investing in such a way that the investor will profit if the value of the asset falls. This is the opposite of a more conventional "long" position, where the investor will profit if the value of the asset rises.




Selling Short


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There are a number of ways of achieving a short position. The most fundamental method is "physical" selling short or short-selling, which involves borrowing assets (often securities such as shares or bonds) and selling them. The investor will later purchase the same number of the same type of securities in order to return them to the lender. If the price has fallen in the meantime, the investor will have made a profit equal to the difference. Conversely, if the price has risen then the investor will bear a loss. The short seller must usually pay a fee to borrow the securities (charged at a particular rate over time, similar to an interest payment), and reimburse the lender for any cash returns such as dividends that were due during the period of lease.


Short positions can also be achieved through futures, forwards or options, where the investor can assume an obligation or a right to sell an asset at a future date at a price that is fixed at the time the contract is created. If the price of the asset falls below the agreed price, then the asset can be bought at the lower price before immediately being sold at the higher price specified in the forward or option contract. A short position can also be achieved through certain types of swap, such as contracts for differences. These are agreements between two parties to pay each other the difference if the price of an asset rises or falls, under which the party that will benefit if the price falls will have a short position.


Because a short seller can incur a liability to the lender if the price rises, and because a short sale is normally done through a broker, a short seller is typically required to post margin to its broker as collateral to ensure that any such liabilities can be met, and to post additional margin if losses begin to accrue. For analogous reasons, short positions in derivatives also usually involve the posting of margin with the counterparty. Any failure to post margin promptly would prompt the broker or counterparty to close the position.


A short sale may have a variety of objectives. Speculators may sell short hoping to realize a profit on an instrument that appears overvalued, just as long investors or speculators hope to profit from a rise in the price of an instrument that appears undervalued. Alternatively, traders or fund managers may use offsetting short positions to hedge certain risks that exist in a long position or a portfolio.


Research indicates that banning short selling is ineffective and has negative effects on markets.[1][2][3][4][5] Nevertheless, short selling is subject to criticism and periodically faces hostility from society and policymakers.[6]


To profit from a decrease in the price of a security, a short seller can borrow the security and sell it, expecting that it will be cheaper to repurchase in the future. When the seller decides that the time is right (or when the lender recalls the securities), the seller buys the same number of equivalent securities and returns them to the lender. The act of buying back the securities that were sold short is called covering the short, covering the position or simply covering. A short position can be covered at any time before the securities are due to be returned. Once the position is covered, the short seller is not affected by subsequent rises or falls in the price of the securities, for it already holds the securities that it will return to the lender.


The process relies on the fact that the securities (or the other assets being sold short) are fungible. An investor therefore "borrows" securities in the same sense as one borrows cash, where the borrowed cash can be freely disposed of and different bank notes or coins can be returned to the lender. This can be contrasted with the sense in which one borrows a bicycle, where the same bicycle must be returned, not merely one that is the same model.


"Shorting" or "going short" (and sometimes also "short selling") also refer more broadly to any transaction used by an investor to profit from the decline in price of a borrowed asset or financial instrument. Derivatives contracts that can be used in this way include futures, options, and swaps.[7][8] These contracts are typically cash-settled, meaning that no buying or selling of the asset in question is actually involved in the contract, although typically one side of the contract will be a broker that will effect a back-to-back sale of the asset in question in order to hedge their position.


The practice of short selling was likely invented in 1609 by Dutch businessman Isaac Le Maire, a sizeable shareholder of the Dutch East India Company (Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie or VOC in Dutch).[9] Short selling can exert downward pressure on the underlying stock, driving down the price of shares of that security. This, combined with the seemingly complex and hard-to-follow tactics of the practice, has made short selling a historical target for criticism.[10] At various times in history, governments have restricted or banned short selling.


The London banking house of Neal, James, Fordyce and Down collapsed in June 1772, precipitating a major crisis that included the collapse of almost every private bank in Scotland, and a liquidity crisis in the two major banking centres of the world, London and Amsterdam. The bank had been speculating by shorting East India Company stock on a massive scale, and apparently using customer deposits to cover losses. It was perceived[citation needed] as having a magnifying effect in the violent downturn in the Dutch tulip market in the eighteenth century. In another well-referenced example, George Soros became notorious for "breaking the Bank of England" on Black Wednesday of 1992, when he sold short more than $10 billion worth of pounds sterling.


The term short was in use from at least the mid-nineteenth century. It is commonly understood that the word "short" (i.e. 'lacking') is used because the short seller is in a deficit position with his brokerage house. Jacob Little, known as The Great Bear of Wall Street, began shorting stocks in the United States in 1822.[11]


Short sellers were blamed for the Wall Street Crash of 1929.[12] Regulations governing short selling were implemented in the United States in 1929 and in 1940.[citation needed] Political fallout from the 1929 crash led Congress to enact a law banning short sellers from selling shares during a downtick; this was known as the uptick rule and was in effect until 3 July 2007, when it was removed by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC Release No. 34-55970).[13] President Herbert Hoover condemned short sellers and even J. Edgar Hoover said he would investigate short sellers for their role in prolonging the Depression.[citation needed] A few years later, in 1949, Alfred Winslow Jones founded a fund (that was unregulated) that bought stocks while selling other stocks short, hence hedging some of the market risk, and the hedge fund was born.[14]


During the dot-com bubble, shorting a start-up company could backfire since it could be taken over at a price higher than the price at which speculators shorted.[citation needed] Short-sellers were forced to cover their positions at acquisition prices, while in many cases the firm often overpaid for the start-up.[citation needed]


Temporary short-selling bans were also introduced in the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy and other European countries in 2008 to minimal effect.[18] Australia moved to ban naked short selling entirely in September 2008.[15] Germany placed a ban on naked short selling of certain euro zone securities in 2010.[19] Spain, Portugal and Italy introduced short selling bans in 2011 and again in 2012.[20]


During the COVID-19 pandemic, shorting was severely restricted or temporarily banned, with European market watchdogs tightening the rules on short selling "in an effort to stem the historic losses arising from the coronavirus pandemic".[21][22]


A short seller typically borrows through a broker, who is usually holding the securities for another investor who owns the securities; the broker himself seldom purchases the securities to lend to the short seller.[23] The lender does not lose the right to sell the securities while they have been lent, as the broker usually holds a large pool of such securities for a number of investors which, as such securities are fungible, can instead be transferred to any buyer. In most market conditions there is a ready supply of securities to be borrowed, held by pension funds, mutual funds and other investors.


To sell stocks short in the U.S., the seller must arrange for a broker-dealer to confirm that it can deliver the shorted securities. This is referred to as a locate. Brokers have a variety of means to borrow stocks to facilitate locates and make good on delivery of the shorted security.


Most brokers allow retail customers to borrow shares to short a stock only if one of their own customers has purchased the stock on margin. Brokers go through the "locate" process outside their own firm to obtain borrowed shares from other brokers only for their large institutional customers.


Stock exchanges such as the NYSE or the NASDAQ typically report the "short interest" of a stock, which gives the number of shares that have been legally sold short as a percent of the total float. Alternatively, these can also be expressed as the short interest ratio, which is the number of shares legally sold short as a multiple of the average daily volume. These can be useful tools to spot trends in stock price movements but for them to be reliable, investors must also ascertain the number of shares brought into existence by naked shorters. Speculators are cautioned to remember that for every share that has been shorted (owned by a new owner), a 'shadow owner' exists (i.e., the original owner) who also is part of the universe of owners of that stock, i.e., despite having no voting rights, he has not relinquished his interest and some rights in that stock. 041b061a72


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