Short sellers are excited about 2018, with bets against Tesla, Ralph Lauren, AB InBev and more

Financial Markets Reporter
Yahoo Finance
Pedestrians walk along Wall Street near the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg
Pedestrians walk along Wall Street near the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S. Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

A group of investors that included hedge fund managers David Einhorn of Greenlight Capital and Carson Block of Muddy Waters gathered in midtown Manhattan to make their respective cases for why some of the world’s largest companies are headed for major slides.

Companies including Anheuser-Busch InBev (BUD), Ralph Lauren(RLand especially Tesla (TSLAare in for losses soon, according to a group gathered for a conference dedicated entirely to short selling – investing in which traders borrow stock at a high price with the intention to buy it later at a lower price and profit from the difference.

The Kase Learning short-selling conference featured big names like Einhorn, Block and former Greenlight partner and analyst Claire Gogel, as well as short sellers from around the globe who presented shorting opportunities that included Korean healthcare company Celltrion, Luxembourg-based communications satellite services provider Intelsat and a host of other companies that ran the gamut of industries.

Ralph Lauren isn’t “street” enough for millennials

Ralph Lauren is overpriced, seen by the market as a luxury brand on the precipice of a major turnaround but without the fundamentals or leadership to do so, Berna Barshay, founder of Viola Capital, told attendees. The brand is woefully unpopular and unknown among millennials, who are leaning more toward “street style,” Barshay said. Making matters worse, Ralph’s second largest customer is discount retailer TJX Companies (TJX), owner of TJMaxx and Ross, causing brand confusion and “massive off-channel conflict.”

Ralph Lauren’s stock price has risen to more than $107 under new CEO Patrice Louvet, but Barshay told Yahoo Finance the excitement is overdone. “People think these turnaround stories just happen overnight,” she said. “It takes time and I don’t know that they can even get there.”

It doesn’t help that the board is led by a cabal of octo – and septuagenarians, Barshay said. She’s got a stock price target of $78, nearly 30% to the downside.

Anheuser-Busch InBev is losing share to craft brewers

Budweiser, or parent company ABInBev, is simply on the wrong side of social distortion, said Enrique Abeyta Ubillos, the founder of digital media platform Project M, and a longtime investment short-seller who founded Stadia Capital and 360 Global Capital.

ABInBev’s owner 3G Capital, which also owns KraftHeinz (Abeyta recommends shorting them as well), are about to be Amazon-ed as craft beer contract brewing begins to gain greater market share.

Abeyta said that 3G’s model of leveraging up with debt and then slashing costs at the companies it’s acquired has worked well for a while, but is about to flame out in a big way, calling the company “a hell of a short.”

Tesla is headed to ‘zero’

Barshay and Abeyta said they expect profitable losses but not major hemorrhaging for Budweiser and Ralph Lauren. Tesla, however, is another matter, according to Stanphyl Capital Partners founder Mark Spiegel. He laid into Tesla during his pitch saying the stock was headed to zero.

Spiegel’s remarks included a powerpoint presentation with more than 100 slides, for which he was given additional time, featuring brands like Jaguar, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, GM, Nissan and a slew of others that will be bringing electric luxury and economy vehicles to market in the near future. He expects those to outpace Tesla in the U.S., China and around the globe.

“When people can finally see those cars on the showroom floor and buy them, maybe that’s when this stock finally goes down,” Spiegel told Yahoo Finance on the sidelines of the event. He added that he has been shorting Tesla’s stock for four years and expects it to go all the way to zero.

The electric car company’s stock was up more than 1% on Friday after dipping by as much as 9% on Thursday following a disastrous earnings call during which chief executive Elon Musk refused to answer “boring” questions from analysts. The company reported a record loss of $709.6 million, or $4.19 per share, in the first quarter ended March 31.

The majority of the investors were small by institutional investor metrics, with many as their firm’s lone analyst or investor and few managing more than $100 million. Einhorn and Gogel requested that their presentations be kept off the record.

‘Things are starting to work on the short side’

Alan Gotthardt, chief investment officer at asset manager TriniD, who came from Atlanta to attend the conference, said that after nine years of frustration in a charging bull market it’s beginning to feel like things are starting to turn.

“It’s good, because there’s been a lot of pain,” Gotthardt said.

That sentiment was echoed by a number of conference attendees and presenters as well as conference organizer and former hedge fund manager Whitney Tilson. Tilson said he’s already planning a repeat of the short-only conference next year, and possibly hold three or four meetings among short sellers throughout the year. He also said young investors could pitch their best prospective stock to short at these meetings with the winners being invited to present at the event next May.

“It feels like things are starting to work on the short side,” Tilson told Yahoo Finance. “The fundamentals seem to be mattering a little bit more. We’re still in a complacent bull market, I don’t think you yet have a tailwind, but at least you don’t have a hurricane of a headwind [from the stock market’s momentum].”

Data shows that investors are indeed getting bullish on the market’s downfall. Research from S3 partners analyzed by Yahoo Finance shows investors currently hold $740 billion of short interest positions, with more than $24.3 billion of short interest added so far this year.

Tesla, the most popular short in the United States, according to S3’s data, was the target of barbs from multiple presenters, in addition to Spiegel.

Of the nearly 20 presentations in which investors laid out the case for shorting, conference organizer Tilson said he expects at least 10 of the companies to be down 50-90% from their current prices in the next 12 months.

“No doubt in my mind,” Tilson said.

Dion Rabouin is a markets reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @DionRabouin.

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