FAQs Short Selling – South Florida, including Boca Raton, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach Securities Litigation and Arbitration Attorney

I. Short Sales

A. What is a short sale?

A short sale is generally the sale of a stock you do not own (or that you will borrow for delivery).  Short sellers believe the price of the stock will fall, or are seeking to hedge against potential price volatility in securities that they own.

If the price of the stock drops, short sellers buy the stock at the lower price and make a profit.  If the price of the stock rises, short sellers will incur a loss.  Short selling is used for many purposes, including to profit from an expected downward price movement, to provide liquidity in response to unanticipated buyer demand, or to hedge the risk of a long position in the same security or a related security.

B. Example of a short sale.

For example, an investor believes that there will be a decline in the stock price of Company A.  Company A is trading at $60 a share, so the investor borrows shares of Company A stock at $60 a share and immediately sells them in a short sale. Later, Company A’s stock price declines to $40 a share, and the investor buys shares back on the open market to replace the borrowed shares. Since the price is lower, the investor profits on the difference — in this case $20 a share (minus transaction costs such as commissions and fees).  However, if the price goes up from the original price, the investor loses money.  Unlike a traditional long position – when risk is limited to the amount invested – shorting a stock leaves an investor open to the possibility of unlimited losses, since a stock can theoretically keep rising indefinitely.

C. How does short selling work?

Typically, when you sell short, your brokerage firm loans you the stock.  The stock you borrow comes from either the firm’s own inventory, the margin account of other brokerage firm clients, or another lender.  As with buying stock on margin, your brokerage firm will charge you interest on the loan, and you are subject to the margin rules.  If the stock you borrow pays a dividend, you must pay the dividend to the person or firm making the loan.

D. Are short sales legal?

Although the vast majority of short sales are legal, abusive short sale practices are illegal.  For example, it is prohibited for any person to engage in a series of transactions in order to create actual or apparent active trading in a security or to depress the price of a security for the purpose of inducing the purchase or sale of the security by others.  Thus, short sales effected to manipulate the price of a stock are prohibited.

II. “Naked” Short Sales

In a “naked” short sale, the seller does not borrow or arrange to borrow the securities in time to make delivery to the buyer within the standard three-day settlement period.  As a result, the seller fails to deliver securities to the buyer when delivery is due (known as a “failure to deliver” or “fail”).

Failures to deliver may result from either a short or a long sale. There may be legitimate reasons for a failure to deliver.  For example, human or mechanical errors or processing delays can result from transferring securities in physical certificate rather than book-entry form, thus causing a failure to deliver on a long sale within the normal three-day settlement period. A fail may also result from “naked” short selling. For example, market makers who sell short thinly traded, illiquid stock in response to customer demand may encounter difficulty in obtaining securities when the time for delivery arrives.

“Naked” short selling is not necessarily a violation of the federal securities laws or the Commission’s rules. Indeed, in certain circumstances, “naked” short selling contributes to market liquidity.  For example, broker-dealers that make a market in a security generally stand ready to buy and sell the security on a regular and continuous basis at a publicly quoted price, even when there are no other buyers or sellers.  Thus, market makers must sell a security to a buyer even when there are temporary shortages of that security available in the market.  This may occur, for example, if there is a sudden surge in buying interest in that security, or if few investors are selling the security at that time.  Because it may take a market maker considerable time to purchase or arrange to borrow the security, a market maker engaged in bona fide market making, particularly in a fast-moving market, may need to sell the security short without having arranged to borrow shares. This is especially true for market makers in thinly traded, illiquid stocks as there may be few shares available to purchase or borrow at a given time.

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