Short-sellers are sitting on nearly $2 billion in profit from bets against the European banking sector this month so far. And, perhaps surprisingly, Credit Suisse wasn’t the most profitable short. Instead, France’s biggest bank BNP Paribas topped the list, yielding $357 million in (as yet unrealized) profits for short sellers in March in total dollar-value terms, according to stock market data provider S3 Partners as of midday Mar. 15. Short-sellers profit when a stock falls. They borrow shares to immediately sell them with plans to repurchase them later when the price is lower, making a profit from the difference. The following table shows five of the most profitable banking trades for short-sellers in March: Bank shares worldwide began their decline on fears of contagion in light of the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank last week. The worries heightened in Europe on Wednesday as Credit Suisse shares fell by 24% — its biggest daily loss. As a result, short-sellers betting against Credit Suisse were up $238.6 million in unrealized profits for the month by midday trading Wednesday, according to S3 Partners. However, data shows that Credit Suisse — Switzerland’s second-largest lender — doesn’t even make the list of the top five most-shorted European Banks. BNP Paribas remains the biggest target for short-sellers, with $3.1 billion in total wagers expecting shares to fall. Its shares have fallen by 20% so far in March, making it one of the biggest losers among large banks in the Stoxx Europe 600 Banks Index. The below table shows the largest shorts in the European banking sector: Italy’s two largest lenders, Intesa Sanpaolo and Unicredit , were the second- and third-largest targets for short-sellers, together attracting nearly $2.5 billion in bets against them. Spain’s Banco Santander and Hong Kong-listed shares of HSBC Holdings rounded off the list. Bets against the European banking sector have ramped up in the past month, rising by $5.42 billion. Short-sellers raised their bets by $1.3 billion against Unicredit alone over the past 30 days. The following table shows the European lenders that saw the largest increase in shorts over the past 30 days. These potentially highly profitable trades haven’t always been a rewarding bet for short sellers. In fact, on a year-to-date basis, bets against European banks were nursing unrealized losses of $1 billion on a total short interest of nearly $20 billion in total, according to Ihor Dusaniwsky, managing director at S3 Partners. “But in March we’ve seen a reversal of fortune with European Bank shorts up $1.89 billion in month-to-date mark-to-market profits, up +8.04% on an average short interest of $23.52 billion,” he said in an email to CNBC Pro. Hedge funds, many of which have short positions, have also faced significant losses on their portfolios elsewhere due to large short-term movements in equities and bond prices. Strategists at Swiss investment bank UBS said that many such funds were flat until last week’s market turbulence, but have quickly lost more than 4% in total value. As a result, UBS said in a note to clients on Mar. 15 that many such funds “significantly reduced their long positions in equities, selling $25-30 [billion] worth of stocks since the announcement of the SVB collapse.” They also warned clients that “more selling flows are coming,” which will eliminate hedge funds’ exposure to equities in the short term.
Short sellers are doubling down on these European banks — and Credit Suisse isn’t their top target