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Traders betting against the FANG stocks are getting destroyed this year

Key Points
  • Short interest totals $17.5 billion in Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google-parent Alphabet, according to calculations from financial technology firm S3 Partners.

  • Bets against FANG have increased by $4.2 billion for the year, or 31.7 percent.

  • Yet the stocks are surging, resulting in a loss of $3.3 billion for the shorts this year.
Pisani: FANG stocks are now 50% of the market cap

This has been a bad year to be on the wrong side of the tech giant trade.

Traders, however, persist in believing the big companies are headed for a fall and are devoting increasing piles of cash to back up what has been a badly losing proposition — betting against the so-called FANGs, or Facebook, Amazon, Netflix and Google (through parent company Alphabet).

Short interest, or the number of shares borrowed in hopes of selling them back at a profit after the stocks drop, totals $17.5 billion in the FANG members, according to calculations from financial technology firm S3 Partners.

That's an increase of $4.2 billion for the year, or 31.7 percent.

The results have not been good: Each of the FANG companies has turned in stellar positive returns this year. That's resulted in a loss of $3.3 billion for the shorts, or 23.1 percent in share price.

"What is surprising is that short sellers continue to build their positions as they rack up large mark-to-market losses month after month," Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of research at S3, said in a note. "With both short interest and losses growing every month, short sellers are realizing that FANG's bite might be worse than their bark."

Here's a snapshot of just how bad the short-FANG trade has been this year:

In terms of total dollar amount, the four stocks are among the top 10 stocks favored by short sellers.

In terms of short interest compared to total shares outstanding, Facebook ranks a relatively low 0.8 percent, Alphabet is at 1 percent and Amazon is at 1.1 percent, while Netflix is at a comparatively high level of 6.3 percent, according to FactSet.

By contrast, Rent-A-Center is the most-shorted stock on the Nasdaq, with 47.6 percent of shares outstanding shorted, but shares actually have risen about 3 percent in 2017.

The top 10 most-shorted stocks in dollar value are up 21 percent for the year, according to S3.

Aside from the FANG shorts, investors otherwise have been piling money into technology this year. Exchange-traded funds that track the sector pulled in $4.1 billion through April, the most of any sector, according to State Street Global Advisors.