There's a lot of controversy right now about stocks going through difficult times. Many institutional investors on Wall Street and elsewhere take the opportunity to take short positions against companies whose shares they anticipate falling precipitously from current levels. Yet the WallStreetBets phenomenon has crushed some major institutions that have tried using that strategy, sending some stocks sharply higher despite their challenges.
Wall Street analysts are usually reluctant to recommend against stocks, and they certainly don't have a perfect track record. However, seeing where analysts believe there are difficulties ahead for certain stocks could be a great place to start your research -- whether you agree with them or vehemently disagree. Below, we'll look at three stocks that the most pessimistic analysts on Wall Street see plunging 50% or more in the near future, with the goal of providing some insight that could help you make your own decision.
Shares of drilling specialist Transocean (RIG 8.83%) have seen a lot of ups and downs in recent years, and unfortunately, long-term investors have suffered through a lot more down times. With oil prices having fallen from triple-digit levels, Transocean's stock has lost more than 90% of its value since the early to mid-2010s. Yet more recently, the stock has perked up along with rising crude prices, jumping nearly sevenfold from its worst levels just last October.
Most analysts seem to think the driller's shares have come too far too quickly. Currently trading at nearly $4.50 per share, the average price target is 44% lower at $2.50. The lowest target is at just $0.50 per share -- nearly 90% lower than current share prices.
Comments from Barclays are fairly representative of what Wall Street is saying about Transocean. In March, Barclays cut its rating from equal weight to underweight, and its $2 price target for the stock represented a more than 50% haircut from where the stock was trading at the time. Barclays argued the share price seemed overly optimistic about a recovery in offshore drilling activity.
Nevertheless, crude prices have continued to rise since then, and the stock has climbed despite short interest of about 14% of Transocean's current float. Further strength in oil markets should help Transocean's business, but it's unclear whether the stock has already taken a recovery into account.
2. American Airlines Group
A different recovery play is somewhat more controversial. American Airlines Group (AAL -0.80%) saw its stock plunge at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, as air travel ground to a halt. Massive losses have plagued the airline since, and those losses could continue well into the future. Yet hopes for a long-term recovery have helped American's stock regain much of the ground it lost.
Analysts are also divided on American's prospects. Jefferies upgraded the stock from underperform to hold and set a $25 per share price target, pointing to recovery prospects that should outweigh the danger from high debt levels. Analysts at Susquehanna, however, haven't budged from their negative rating on American, and its $10 per share price target reflected the belief that domestic-only airlines would likely outperform in the early stage of the recovery as international pandemic-related restrictions have remained in place.
With short interest of more than 14% of the stock's float, American has a large contingent of investors betting against it. Yet the airlines have been popular picks among retail investors, and that sets up the tug of war that we've seen with many companies in recent months.
3. AMC Entertainment Holdings
Finally, AMC Entertainment Holdings (AMC -9.69%) is a big battleground in the investing community. The movie theater operator's stock has soared 2,500% since the beginning of the year. Yet analysts are universally convinced that the share price will fall back to earth, with price targets ranging from $16 on the high side to just $1 on the low side. Those calls imply declines of 70% to 98% from current levels.
Here, though, the investment community itself has defied those analyst calls. In early June, AMC raised $587 million by selling 11.55 million shares at a price above $50 per share. That was a huge improvement over an earlier capital raise in late April and early May of 43 million shares at an average stock price just under $10.
Despite -- or perhaps because of -- the huge run-up in AMC's stock price, short interest remains high at 17% of float. It's inevitable that AMC's business will improve when people return to theaters again in full force, but whether the stock can hold onto its gains is a different story entirely.
Will Wall Street win?
Wall Street has been notoriously wrong with some of its short-selling calls in recent months. In many investors' minds, that makes bearish picks like these potential buy candidates rather than stocks to be shunned.
Nevertheless, all three of these stocks serve as reminders that stock prices rise in advance of improving industry conditions. It's entirely possible that even if their underlying businesses see ongoing signs of recovery, their shares could still fall in the short run from current levels.