Over the past six months, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) shares have quickly gone from gravity-defying darling to fallen angel. I'm distinguishing that we're only talking about the shares, because the underlying fundamental business remains rock solid.
Apple has now become a battleground stock, with investors and analysts passionately lining up for or against the Mac maker's prospects. As far as high-profile investors go, David Einhorn remains incredibly bullish, proxy lawsuit notwithstanding. Meanwhile, we can now say that bond guru Jeff Gundlach was right with his call that Apple would come close to hitting $425 -- shares traded as low as $435 at the end of January.
Analyst opinions and price targets also vary widely. On the low end we have ACI Research's Edward Zabitsky, who is sticking by his $270 price target and "sell short" rating. On the high end we have Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White, who thinks shares are worth buying and values them at $888. That puts the Street high target at over 3 times the low target. Battleground, indeed.
We can also get a glimpse into investor sentiment by periodically checking short interest figures that the exchanges report. This measure of sentiment has been steadily climbing over the past year.
Short interest has climbed from 10.4 million shares held short as of a year ago to 18.9 million shares held short as of the end of last month -- an 81% increase over just under a year. That's a fairly notable increase in bearish sentiment surrounding Apple.
If we look at that short interest figure in the context of Apple's share float, we're still talking about only 2% of float held short. That's well below some other battleground stocks, even with the relative increase since last February. Those shares are also less than Apple's average daily volume, so any short squeeze wouldn't be as powerful.
Since the overall upward trend in short interest is fairly stable, we can safely say that a lot of the selling pressure over the past few months has also included long investors who've sold in addition to outright bears who've gone short. This may include the closing out of positions in funds or the paring of 0positions to lock in gains, as well as a transition among Apple's institutional investor base from growth-oriented funds toward value-oriented funds.
The bears may be growing their ranks, but there are still plenty of value-oriented bulls waiting to get in -- especially once Apple starts giving more cash back.
Fool contributor Evan Niu, CFA, owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool recommends and owns shares of Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.