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Short Squeeze Explained: Why It Happens and How It Works

Plus500 | Thursday 13 June 2024

The phenomenon of a Short Squeeze, characterised by a sudden and substantial surge in stock or security prices, has captivated the financial markets with its unexpected and impactful nature. 

This article delves into the origins and mechanics of Short Squeezes, exploring how they unfold and examining their historical occurrences. A Short Squeeze materialises when a security holds a significant number of short sellers, who, anticipating a decline, find themselves compelled to exit positions as prices unexpectedly rise. 

The article explores the intricate chain reaction among short sellers, the role of social media in influencing Short Squeezes, and the mechanics of identifying stocks susceptible to such movements. Additionally, it discusses the distinction between short and Gamma Squeezes and compares Short Squeezes with their counterpart, the Long Squeeze. 

By analysing historical Short Squeezes, such as those involving GameStop, AMC, and Tesla, the article sheds light on the dynamics, catalysts, and implications of these market phenomena. Overall, this comprehensive exploration aims to equip investors with insights into navigating the complexities of Short Squeezes and understanding their broader impact on financial markets. (Source: Investopedia)

An illustration of volatile charts

Key Points:

  • Short Squeeze Overview: The article explores Short Squeezes, sudden surges in stock prices due to significant short sellers exiting positions.

  • Mechanics: Short Squeezes result from short sellers, anticipating a decline, forced to buy back shares at higher prices, triggering rapid price surges.

  • Catalysts and Identification: Catalysts include unforeseen positive developments, catching short sellers off guard. Investors can identify potential Short Squeezes through metrics like short interest.

Short Squeeze: Origins and Mechanics

A Short Squeeze is a unique occurrence that sparks a sudden surge in prices for a stock or another tradable security. This phenomenon typically unfolds when a security harbours a substantial number of short sellers—investors who are essentially betting on the security's price to decline. 

The Short Squeeze initiates when the price unexpectedly surges, gaining momentum as a significant portion of short sellers opt to cut their losses and abandon their positions.

The mechanics of a Short Squeeze involve a chain reaction among short sellers. These investors, anticipating a decline, borrow shares of an asset or corporation and immediately sells them with the intention of buying them back at a lower price after the anticipated fall. If their prediction proves accurate, they return the borrowed shares and profit from the price difference. 

However, if the stock price rises instead, short sellers are compelled to purchase the shares at a higher price, incurring losses equal to the disparity between the initial shorted price and the higher purchase price.

As short sellers exit their positions by executing buy orders, their collective departure triggers a surge in prices. This abrupt rise not only attracts additional buyers but also induces panic among the remaining short sellers. The amalgamation of new buyers and the rushed exit of short sellers results in a rapid and sometimes unprecedented escalation in the security's price—this entire phenomenon is known as a Short Squeeze.

Short Squeeze Examples

A pertinent example of a Short Squeeze involves Tesla Inc. (TSLA), which, in early 2020, was the most heavily shorted stock on U.S. exchanges with over 18% of its outstanding stock in short positions. As Tesla's stock soared by a staggering 400% from late 2019 to early 2020, short sellers collectively faced substantial losses, totaling around $8 billion. Despite a temporary downturn in March 2020 due to a broader market decline, Tesla's stock rebounded, leaving short sellers nursing losses exceeding $40 billion for the entirety of 2020.

The catalysts for Short Squeezes are varied, often resulting from unforeseen positive developments for a company. For instance, positive news stories, product announcements, or earnings beats can swiftly alter the outlook for a stock, catching short sellers off guard. Even with sound reasoning behind their short positions, short sellers can be blindsided by these unexpected market shifts, leading them to hastily exit their positions.

Investors keen on identifying stocks susceptible to Short Squeezes can utilise measures such as short interest and the short interest ratio. Short interest represents the total number of shares sold short as a percentage of total shares outstanding, while the short interest ratio is the total shorted shares divided by the stock's average daily trading volume. Monitoring changes in short interest can signal shifts in investor sentiment, with a significant increase potentially indicating a looming Short Squeeze and an ensuing upward pressure on prices.

In conclusion, Short Squeezes are intricate market phenomena driven by the dynamics between short sellers and unforeseen positive developments. Investors navigating this landscape must carefully evaluate short interest metrics (among other things) and be mindful of potential catalysts that could prompt a surge in prices, making more informed decisions amidst the inherent risks associated with short selling and contrarian investing.

Identifying a Short Squeeze

At times, it can be somewhat difficult to distinguish the dynamics of a Short Squeeze from other stock movements, such as a stock breakout. Short Squeezes and breakouts both embody vigorous bullish movements in stock prices but differ fundamentally in their driving forces.

In a Short Squeeze, the surge in a stock's price is propelled by short sellers urgently buying shares to exit their positions, coupled with the participation of bullish traders. This creates an atmosphere of high volatility and frenetic trading activity, as the impetus behind the price movement—open short positions—will eventually run out. Short Squeezes often conclude with a sharp peak, followed by a decline to or slightly above the level where the squeeze began.

Conversely, a breakout occurs when a stock's price surpasses a resistance level, establishing a sustained higher price. Supported by robust bullish trading volume, breakouts do not primarily involve short sellers buying shares. Although a price peak may materialize, the stock typically maintains a position above the prior resistance line after a successful breakout.

It's noteworthy that a Short Squeeze can act as the catalyst for a breakout, and vice versa. During a Short Squeeze, a stock might break above a resistance level and maintain a price above that threshold. Alternatively, a breakout could trigger buying activity that startles short sellers, prompting them to exit positions and initiating a Short Squeeze.

Traders must remain vigilant about Short Squeezes due to their distinct dynamics compared to traditional breakouts. Short Squeezes are highly volatile, with the potential to propel a stock's price well beyond its last support level. Both long traders and short sellers need to exercise caution, considering the duration of the movement and potential pitfalls.

Recognizing an ongoing Short Squeeze involves various strategies. High short interest, measured by the days-to-cover ratio, is indicative of Short Squeeze susceptibility. Stocks with low floats (fewer publicly traded shares) are more prone to Short Squeezes, given the challenges short sellers face in covering positions. Unusually high volatility may signal an imminent Short Squeeze, with short sellers hastily exiting positions. Elevated trading volume, especially when short sellers are covering positions, can indicate a Short Squeeze in progress.

Understanding the reason behind a stock's price movement is crucial. A legitimate catalyst, such as positive earnings or industry-wide news, may be driving a bullish movement, while a bullish catalyst can ignite a Short Squeeze. Short Squeezes can unfold during uptrends or downtrends, though they are less likely during a prolonged downtrend. However, a Short Squeeze may follow a sustained downtrend if short sellers holding unrealized profits decide to cover as the stock turns against them. 

Short Squeeze vs. Gamma Squeeze

Short Squeezes and Gamma Squeezes differ in their origin and impact on the market. A Short Squeeze occurs when individual traders put stop-losses on short trades, resulting in a price increase. In contrast, a Gamma Squeeze occurs in the options market as market makers hedge risks by buying additional stocks to secure options.

Short Squeezes are influenced by individual traders, while Gamma Squeezes are primarily driven by market maker hedging. The rate of price change is more significant in a Gamma Squeeze compared to a Short Squeeze.

Notably, examples like AMC and GameStop illustrate both types of squeezes simultaneously. When a Short Squeeze affects the stock market, it automatically influences the options market, leading to a synergy effect. Despite their distinct triggers, both squeezes manifest as a sharp abnormal price increase on the chart.

Short Squeeze vs. Long Squeeze

In the equities market, a Short Squeeze is a common occurrence where a stock's price experiences an upsurge, accompanied by a spike in purchase volume. This phenomenon unfolds as short sellers exit their positions, compelled to cut their losses. When investors initially short a stock, they are essentially betting on its price to decline in the short term. However, if the opposite happens and the price increases, short sellers find themselves in a position where the only way to close their position is by going long—purchasing shares of the stock. This, in turn, intensifies the upward pressure on the stock's price, creating a cycle of further action by short sellers.

On the other hand, a Long Squeeze transpires in a robust financial market marked by sharp price decreases. In this scenario, investors who are long a particular stock decide to sell a portion of their position. The motivation behind such selling lies in the desire to shield against potential dramatic losses. This selling pressure can escalate as more long holders of the stock are influenced to sell their shares to mitigate risk. The catalyst for Long Squeezes often involves investors placing stop-loss orders to ensure protection against any price declines, even amid an overall upward trend. Interestingly, even in an environment where prices are increasing, volatility can trigger short downward swings, prompting the execution of sell orders and contributing to a Long Squeeze.

In essence, the key distinction between Short Squeezes and Long Squeezes lies in the initial market position of the investors involved. Short Squeezes emanate from short sellers going long to close positions, fostering price increases. Conversely, Long Squeezes unfold as long holders sell shares to guard against potential losses, introducing selling pressure and the prospect of further price declines. Both phenomena are intricately tied to investor behavior and risk mitigation strategies, each exerting a unique influence on stock prices based on the original position taken in the market.

Historical Short Squeezes

In recent years, certain stocks have made top headlines across the world due to the fluctuations caused by a Short Squeeze. Let’s take a closer look at some key examples: 

Gamestop Short Squeeze

In January 2021, GameStop experienced a significant surge fueled by retail investor enthusiasm and hedge funds looking to short the stock based on revenue and growth projections. The company, a video game retailer, faced declining sales due to reduced store visitors during COVID-19 lockdowns. Hedge funds took short positions, prompting notable figures like Michael Burry, Ryan Cohen, and Reddit influencers to present a bullish case for the stock, attracting retail investors.

The influx of retail investors caused GameStop's stock to soar from under $5 to nearly $325 within six months. Influential individuals like Elon Musk and Chamath Palihapitiya supported the stock, leading to a snowball effect and continued price escalation. In late January, trading app Robinhood suspended GameStop trading, providing short-sellers with a window to recover losses. Overall, short-sellers are estimated to have incurred losses nearing $2 billion during this period.

AMC Short Squeeze

In 2021, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. (AMCX) experienced a notable Short Squeeze. Approximately 20% of the cinema chain's shares were in short positions, significantly surpassing the average of 5%. This elevated level of short positions triggered a substantial Short Squeeze, causing the stock’s value to increase more than 3000% from January to June of that year.

Individual investors, organising through social networks like Reddit and Twitter, joined forces early in the year to collectively purchase AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. stock. They perceived the stock as undervalued and believed that coordinated buying could drive up its price. Their objective included inflicting losses on major hedge funds with significant short positions in the cinema chain's stock, a goal they successfully achieved.

The AMC Entertainment Short Squeeze garnered widespread media attention and was perceived as a symbolic triumph for individual investors against the dominance of large Wall Street entities. This event underscored the growing influence of social media networking in financial markets, showcasing the capacity of private investors to impact the stock prices of even the most prominent corporations.

Tesla Short Squeeze

The Short Squeeze witnessed in Tesla's (TSLA) shares in 2020 stands out as one of the most surprising and lucrative events in decades of trading history. This surge was instigated by various factors, including a heightened demand for electric vehicles and the charismatic leadership of Elon Musk. As Tesla's stock price soared, it exerted pressure on short sellers, resulting in substantial losses for those who had bet against the car manufacturer.

The Tesla Short Squeeze highlights the increasing impact of ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) investing on the stock market. The company's emphasis on electric vehicles and green energy positioned it favourably among individuals and companies prioritising environmental and global issues in their investments. This event underscored the alignment of Tesla's values with those of investors seeking to make socially responsible investment decisions.


The captivating nature of Short Squeezes, characterised by sudden and substantial surges in stock or security prices, has been explored in this article, delving into their origins, mechanics, and historical occurrences. These phenomena arise when securities with significant short sellers experience unexpected price increases, compelling shorts to exit positions and triggering a rapid escalation known as a Short Squeeze.

Examining examples like GameStop, AMC, and Tesla highlights the role of social media in influencing Short Squeezes, with retail investors playing a transformative role in challenging traditional market dynamics. Comparisons between Short Squeezes, Gamma Squeezes, and Long Squeezes offer insights into their distinct mechanics and impacts on the market.

The historical examples underscore the diverse catalysts and outcomes of Short Squeezes, contributing to the evolving landscape of financial markets. Investors are encouraged to evaluate among other things short interest metrics, monitor changes, and stay vigilant to potential catalysts to navigate these phenomena effectively.

In conclusion, the Short Squeeze phenomenon, with its unpredictable nature and far-reaching implications, remains a captivating aspect of financial markets. This concise exploration serves as a guide for investors, offering insights into the mechanics, catalysts, and broader impact of Short Squeezes, empowering them to navigate this intricate terrain with more informed decision-making and risk management strategies.


What triggers a Short Squeeze?

A Short Squeeze occurs when a security has a substantial presence of short sellers. These investors, expecting a decline, are forced to exit their positions as prices unexpectedly increase.

Is a Short Squeeze illegal?

A practice related to Short Squeezes that is illegal in the United States is ‘naked short selling’, or benefitting from the discrepancy between the recording of digital and paper trading to short sell stock holdings that may not exist. 

How can you protect yourself against a Short Squeeze?

To mitigate potential losses during a Short Squeeze, traders can use two essential strategies. The first is through the use of stop-loss orders, where a predetermined level automatically closes a position. For example, if an investor shorts a stock at $10, placing a stop-loss order at $15 limits the loss to $5.

The second strategy is hedging, involving setting purchase orders at a specified level to curtail losses. For instance, placing an order to buy the previously shorted stock at $15 serves as a protective measure, akin to a stop loss.

Traders should exercise caution and be aware of the risks associated with stop-loss orders, which are vulnerable to short-term fluctuations in price, impacting the original risk-reward ratio that traders use to manage their capital and risk loss.

How long does a Short Squeeze last?

Short Squeezes generally last between two to four weeks.

Who benefits from a Short Squeeze?

Investors with Long Positions will generally benefit in a Short Squeeze situation.

Is Short Squeeze Bullish or Bearish?

Short Squeezes can be considered bullish as they involve a security’s rapid rise in value.

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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