(Written by Rebecca Lipman. List compiled by Eben Esterhuizen, CFA. Rebecca owns shares of FSLR)
The Standard and Poor’s rating agency is being closely watched for signs of another US downgrade, from AA+ to AA, in the event the Super Committee fails to work out a deficit reduction plan.
Mixed debate over the likelihood of an S&P downgrade has increased as the Super Committee deadline grows nearer. Speculators are eager for any credible outlook.
Word on the street…
Bank of America has presented both sides: Last month analyst Ethan Harris said “The ‘not-so-super’ Deficit Commission is very unlikely to come up with a credible deficit-reduction plan. The committee is more divided than the overall Congress.” He adds, “the credit rating agencies have strongly suggested that further rating cuts are likely if Congress does not come up with a credible long-run plan. Hence, we expect at least one credit downgrade in late November or early December when the super Committee crashes.”
Morgan Stanley’s Christine Tan appears to have the same opinion. Her comments on Thursday suggest if the Super Committee fails to create a real $1.2 trillion deficit reduction plan, or if subsequent Congressional actions lessen the impact of a plan, S&P will have sufficient pretext to further downgrade the US from AA+ to AA.
Last week, Bank of America analyst Michael Hanson sang a different tune:
“In our view, the Super Committee is unlikely to agree to a plan, thereby triggering $1.2 trillion of automatic discretionary spending cuts. Under this scenario, we would see this as a further demonstration of the dysfunction in Washington DC, and it does little to push the US onto a sustainable debt trajectory. The rating agencies seem nonplussed. For example, a report from Moody’s earlier this week suggests that the fall-back outcome would not, by itself, warrant a downgrade in the near term. As a result, we no longer see a December downgrade as likely. “
However, Hanson adds “we still see an elevated risk of a downgrade ahead of the election as the partisan divide would harden and the temptation to renege on past agreements increases.”
An economic slowdown would be the most foreseeable consequences of an additional US downgrade, and from the above predictions it can be surmised that analysts and institutions are erring on the side of caution.
Wondering which stocks are most vulnerable to a U.S. credit rating downgrade? For ideas, we collected data on short floats, and identified the top 10 S&P 500 stocks being targeted by short sellers.
Short sellers think these major companies are in major trouble, and vulnerable to headline risk. Do you agree? Are any of these stocks in your portfolio or watch list?
Use this list as a starting point for your own analysis.
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Sorted by short float.
1. First Solar, Inc. (FSLR): First Solar, Inc. manufactures and sells solar modules using a thin-film semiconductor technology. Short float at 35.81%, which is equivalent to 5.69 days of average volume.
2. GameStop Corp. (GME): Operates as a retailer of video game products and personal computer (PC) entertainment software. Short float at 27.71%, which is equivalent to 10.17 days of average volume.
3. SUPERVALU Inc. (SVU): Operates retail food stores in the United States. Short float at 22.68%, which is equivalent to 7.41 days of average volume.
4. AK Steel Holding Corporation (AKS): Produces flat-rolled carbon, stainless, and electrical steels, and tubular products primarily in the United States and internationally. Short float at 22.21%, which is equivalent to 2.57 days of average volume.
5. United States Steel Corp. (X): Produces and sells steel mill products in North America and Central Europe. Short float at 21.66%, which is equivalent to 2.43 days of average volume.
6. Lennar Corp. (LEN): Operates as a home builder and provider of financial services in the United States. Short float at 19.45%, which is equivalent to 5.7 days of average volume.
7. J. C. Penney Company, Inc. (JCP): J. C. Penney Company, Inc., through its subsidiary, J. C. Penney Corporation, Inc., operates department stores in the United States and Puerto Rico. Short float at 18.39%, which is equivalent to 5.59 days of average volume.
8. Netflix, Inc. (NFLX): Provides subscription based Internet services for TV shows and movies in the United States and internationally. Short float at 18.02%, which is equivalent to 0.98 days of average volume.
9. Vulcan Materials Company (VMC): Engages in the production and sale of construction aggregates for the infrastructure industry primarily in the United States. Short float at 16.98%, which is equivalent to 11.42 days of average volume.
10. Express Scripts Inc. (ESRX): Provides a range of pharmacy benefit management (PBM) services in North America. Short float at 15.64%, which is equivalent to 8.58 days of average volume.