Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA), SodaStream (NASDAQ:SODA) and lululemon athletica (NASDAQ:LULU) are three heavily shorted stocks with a legion of disbelievers. Considering their potential for growth, however, this short interest could generate explosive gains for the bulls if the bears need to run for cover in the coming quarters.
Tesla: Overcharged volatility
Tesla is a particularly volatile stock; expectations can be enormously erratic regarding the electric vehicle manufacturer. The stock had risen more than 450% in the 12 months leading to its latest earnings report on Nov. 5, and since then it has retraced by more than 28% in a remarkably short period of time.
Both sales and earnings for the quarter were above average analysts expectations, but some Wall Street analysts were disappointed by the forward guidance of "slightly under 6,000 units" for the fourth quarter. Security concerns regarding a series of reported fires involving Teslas, an accident in the company's factory in California, and even negative publicity due to harsh criticism from actor George Clooney have been hurting the stock in a big way lately.
Tesla is clearly a risky investment; the company is at the forefront of technological innovation, and that necessarily carries some serious challenges. Shortage of lithium-ion battery cells is a material reason for concern when it comes to production possibilities. In addition to that, Tesla's success is attracting competition, and there is no way to know for sure what the future will bring in terms of technological possibilities for the industry.
On the other hand, the company could be on its way to becoming the most disruptive force the automobile industry has seen in decades. The Model S is an amazing success, and Tesla can't build its cars fast enough to meet demand. Elon Musk is one of the most remarkable entrepreneurs and business leaders of our time, so a short position in Tesla means betting against a man who has made significant inroads in areas like electronic payments, solar energy, and space travel, among others.
Tesla carries a massive short interest of more than 24.3% of the company's float; those bears are exposed to enormous risks if the company continues revolutionizing the automobile industry over the years. If bears need to cover their short positions, buying pressure could produce explosive gains for Tesla bulls.
SodaStream can pop up again
Shares of home soda-maker company SodaStream fell by more than 10% after it reported disappointing earnings results on Oct. 10. Judging by the whopping short interest, above 48.5% of the company's float, the bears are feeling their case is stronger than ever after the company reported lower-than-expected flavor sales during the quarter with a growth rate of only 7% versus the previous year.
Management, on the other hand, was quite explicit in blaming vendor inventory reductions for the weak flavor sales, especially in the U.S. CEO Daniel Birnbaum said during the press conference, "To be clear, these were vendorwide inventory reductions not restricted to SodaStream."
Machine sales were quite solid, with a 27% increase in the quarter, and carbonators were even better with a 34% growth rate for the period. This indicates that consumers are not only buying the machines, but also putting them to active use, which is a good sign in terms of demand health. Besides, total sales were up by 28.5% to $144.6 million in the quarter, so it's not like the company is stagnating when considering overall revenues.
If management is in fact right and weak carbonator sales for the quarter were only a transitory problem due to inventory adjustments, SodaStream could experience reaccelerated growth in the future. Needless to say, this could likely be very painful for the shorts and a happy scenario for shareholders in the company.
Lululemon is in an uncomfortable position
Lululemon is going through a really complicated period. As the company was trying to recover from product recalls due to sheerness problems in its yoga pants, founder and Chairman Chip Wilson basically insulted the company's customers by saying in a recent interview on Bloomberg TV that woman's bodies may be to blame for their problems with the company's products.
"Frankly, some women's bodies just actually don't work" for the pants, Wilson said on Nov. 5, and this has understandably created heavy backlash and criticism against the company. These unfortunate comments come at a time when Lululemon is still looking for a new CEO to replace outgoing CEO Christine Day, so there is plenty of uncertainty regarding top leadership at the yoga apparel company. The shorts have taken notice of the company's problems; Lululemon has a short interest ratio above 24% of the company's float.
On the other hand, if the company hires the right CEO to streamline operations, leave its inventory problems behind, and restore its image and brand value, Lululemon has plenty of room for recovery from current levels.
The company has an enormously profitable business model. Thanks to its pricing power Lululemon has an operating margin above 25% of sales versus an industry average of 11% according to data from Morningstar. Revenues during the last quarter grew by 22% year over year on the back of a strong increase of 8% in comparable-store sales on a constant-dollar basis, so as of the third quarter the brand continued resonating strongly among customers.
If Lululemon can change course, or at least avoid making any big mistakes for a while, the stock has plenty of room to run, and short covering could accelerate the gains.
A high-growth company with heavy short interest can be an interesting combination for explosive upside potential. Tesla, SodaStream, and Lululemon fit that description pretty well, even if the three of them carry considerable risks.
Fool contributor Andrés Cardenal owns shares of SodaStream. The Motley Fool recommends SodaStream and Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of SodaStream and Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not 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.