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Shorting Defined: What Is Short Selling?

Plus500 | Thursday 08 September 2022

The markets are ever-changing and volatile, this volatility and dynamism were prominent in the past couple of months as inflation, fears of a recession, and the war in Ukraine took a toll on economies all over the world. That is to say that markets fall too, and while that decline might overwhelm some traders, it may also be used for their advantage through short-selling.


What Is Short Selling?

Traditionally, short sellers are traders or investors who attempt to potentially benefit from the falling prices of an asset. In this process, short sellers borrow the asset they believe will fall from their broker and sell it in the open market. The purpose of this strategy is to eventually buy back the assets you sold at a lower price than they were sold for and hopefully benefit from the price difference (if your speculations were correct). To sum it up, short selling is when you sell a stock or other securities or commodities you don’t own, hoping to buy them at a lower price. (Source:Charles Schwab)

Short Selling Example: How Does Short Selling Work? 

To make short selling more tangible, here’s an example of shorting a stock. If, for instance, a certain company’s share was trading at $100 per share, and the investor believes that its price will decline, then he can borrow 100 shares from his brokerage and short sell them in the open market. If indeed the investor’s speculations were right, he can then buy these shares at a lower price than the one he initially paid. Suppose that the share price fell to $90, the investor who bought the shares earlier can now buy them again at a lower price. Therefore, the investor gets to earn $10 in difference which amounts to $1000 since he borrowed 100 shares. 

What Is CFD Short Selling? 

In the CFD world, a CFD contract is one where the buyer and the seller stipulate that the buyer must pay the seller the difference between the price of the underlying financial instrument from the inception of the contract until its maturity. When trading CFDs, the traders get to potentially benefit from the rising or declining prices of the underlying assets without owning them (depending on their position). If, for example, the trader opened a buy position, then he is essentially hoping for the price to rise. On the flip side, if the trader opens a short position, then he is speculating on the price of the asset to depreciate.

Unlike traditional short selling, in which you have to borrow the assets from a broker, short selling CFDs with a provider like Plus500 does not require you to borrow or exchange the underlying asset. Short selling CFDs, therefore, helps you avoid an issue called ‘unborrowable stock,’ which is a stock that no lender wants to lend short sellers. In the process of CFD short selling, traders open a “sell” position on their chosen underlying asset.  (Source:Investopedia)

For instance, if you open a 1:5 leveraged ‘sell’ position on 100 shares that cost $50 each, you can put a margin of $1000 instead of $5000. In case the price of the share falls to $30, you can eventually close your position and make a profit of $2,000 (excluding commissions). This is how it’s calculated: [($50 - $30 x 100]= $2000. Of course, this profit is only attainable if, indeed, the price of the asset dwindles after you short-sell it. If the price rises, the odds can be against and you may end up losing significant funds. 

When Is Short Selling Relevant?

In the recent bear markets like those observed in mid-June during which leading market Indices like the S&P 500 (USA 500) decreased by 20% and inflation in the US reached a 40-year high, short selling may have become relevant to some traders who aimed to potentially benefit from the decreasing prices. Though the market has been rising partially, possibly recouping some of its losses, Morgan Stanley (MS) analyst, Michael Wilson, posits that the bear markets might last longer as traders would have to grapple with the aftermath of a gloomy economy in crisis. Furthermore, on Wall Street, analysts claimed that the Federal Reserve might accelerate the chances of a recession as it attempts to tame inflation through its hawkish rate hikes policy. In such instances, short sellers may be able to take advantage of the falling markets. 

Some short sellers may prefer to wait for a technical indicator to confirm a bearish trend before they short sell. On the other hand, while many short sellers prefer for a bearish market to be confirmed before they short sell, others find the decline in the price of an individual asset sufficient. Take, for example, the fall in the price of tech behemoth NVIDIA (NVDA), which as of the time of the writing declined by 30% since June, perhaps causing many investors to short sell it. 

Pros and Cons of Short Selling

In case the price of the short-sold asset declines (as anticipated), then you can potentially profit from the price without paying high amounts upfront. In addition, short selling allows you to potentially make money during bearish or deteriorating market conditions. On the flip side, if the price of the asset rises instead of falling as you had initially anticipated, then you end up losing a lot of money, especially if the price rises exponentially. 

Short Selling Metrics

Though each short-seller has his own approach, there are two possible metrics that can be used to track short-selling activity and reveal the potential stocks/assets for short selling; Short Interest Ratio and Short Interest to Volume Ratio. 

Short Interest Ratio (SIR) refers to the number of shares available for short-selling. The higher the SIR ratio the more it indicates to investors that the instrument in question is in a bearish market or is overvalued since it has a short-selling appeal to it. This metric is also called ‘short float,’ as it essentially compares the numbers of floating (available) shares and the currently shorted ones.

The second metric is the Short Interest to Volume Ratio. This metric includes the total amount of shorted shares divided by the average daily trading volume of the stock in question. Like in SIR, the higher the Short Interest to Volume Ratio is, the more bearish the financial asset. 

What Is a Short Squeeze?

Sometimes, short squeezes can occur. A short squeeze refers to an unprecedented rise in the prices of a financial instrument which leads to short-sellers exiting their short positions to avoid losses. For a short squeeze to happen the asset has to have a lot of short positions opened on it and for its price to rise dramatically. 

It is important to realize that the condition occurs when the short sellers exit the market in order to minimize their losses. Accordingly, by exiting short positions, short sellers accelerate a stock's price rise. A relatively recent example of a short squeeze is Coinbase (COIN) which so far this year has lost about 72% of its value due to an extensive crypto winter, rallied by 90% on Monday, August 4th. This rally amidst the overwhelming downtrend might’ve been a short squeeze according to some analysts. 

Whether or not the markets will indeed continue riding the bearish waves is yet to be determined and lies on factors like the war in Ukraine, inflation, and interest rate hikes. In the meantime, though this strategy is controversial and risky, many traders seem to be adopting it, perhaps attempting to turn the bear market’s lemons into lemonade. 

This information is written by Plus500 Ltd. The information is provided for general purposes only, and does not take into account any personal circumstances or objectives. Before acting on this material, you should consider whether it is suitable for your particular circumstances and, if necessary, seek professional advice. No representation or warranty is given as to the accuracy or completeness of this information. It does not constitute financial, investment or other advice on which you can rely. Any references to past performance, historical returns, future projections, and statistical forecasts are no guarantee of future returns or future performance. Plus500 will not be held responsible for any use that may be made of this information and for any consequences that may result from such use. Hence, any person acting based on this information does so at their own discretion. The information has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research.

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