Stock Quotes in this Article: BAC, CHK, HPQ, NOK, SVU

NEW YORK (Stockpickr) -- After steady gains in the first quarter and steady losses in the second quarter, the third quarter still hasn’t shown its full hand.

One group hoping for a turn to the downside is the short-sellers. They are maintaining large short positions in some very popular stocks, hoping either company-specific bad news or a tough market will bring stock prices down -- and profits to short-sellers.

Even if you don’t short stocks yourself, you still need to heed the actions of short sellers. If they are targeting a stock you own, then you need to think long and hard about whether you have a lot of confidence that these shorts are wrong.

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Here are five stocks that may be headed for a fall, at least according to short sellers.

 

Chesapeake Energy

Short Position: 83 million shares (as of July 13)

Chesapeake Energy (CHK) looked headed for big trouble in the spring when natural gas prices were plunging to multi-year lows and the company’s chief executive was being pilloried for a series of conflict-of interest moves. Since then, new independent board directors have been brought to bring the CEO to heel, and gas prices have staged a solid 50% rebound.

Still, Chesapeake, which owns vast amount of energy-producing real estate, is faced with a major cash flow problem. The company has a huge funding gap as it aims to complete all of its capital spending plans. Chesapeake is hopeful that the rising cash flow that will result from rising gas prices, along with several asset sales, will raise the funds to keep business afloat.

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Short-sellers are betting that Chesapeake is ill-equipped to actually raise all the money it needs, and they see a big cash crunch coming. If that happens, shares would quickly move lower.

Nokia

Short Position: 165 million shares

Time may be running out for erstwhile telecom giant Nokia (NOK). In recent quarters, cash has been flying out the door at an alarming rate as the company heavily invests in new smart phones while still supporting a money-losing networking equipment business. Analysts expect that Nokia will lose more than $4 billion this year.

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At current burn rates, Nokia may be out of money by the end of next year, and the cash pressures are already forcing sacrifices that diminish any chances of a major rebound. For example, Nokia just announced plans to cancel a major phone software project in hopes of conserving cash.

Short-sellers are betting that such moves only strengthen the hand of competitors that are spending freely to remain on the cutting edge.

Nokia shows up on recent lists of 5 Stocks Under $10 That Probably Won't Double in 2012 and 5 Stocks to Buy if They Crash on Earnings.

Supervalu

Short Position: 100 million shares

Could lagging supermarket chain Supervalu (SVU) soon be toast? The company failed to respond to the dual threats in the grocery biz from the high end -- Whole Foods (WFM) -- and the low-end -- Wal-Mart (WMT). As a result, customers have been slowly migrating away to rivals, which has led to a steady deterioration in Supervalu’s sales and cash flow. For a company with more than $6 billion in debt, slumping business trends could force management to seek protection in bankruptcy court.

Supervalu’s management recently announced plans to “seek strategic alternatives,” which is a code for a “for sale” sign hanging on the front door. Analysts quickly threw water on the plan, expressing doubts that the company’s assets -- after debts are paid off -- would fetch very much.

Shares have fallen from $5 to around $2 over the past month, and short-sellers think they’ll be able to close out their positions with a $0 stock price.

Bank of America

Short Position: 225 million shares

Bank stocks aren’t getting much love right now -- especially Bank of America (BAC), which is widely-viewed as the most poorly run bank in the nation. The company made bold acquisitions in two areas in 2008 -- mortgages and investment banking -- and both have been an unmitigated disaster.

In a sign of how unhealthy this bank is, consider that 2011 revenue of around $45 billion is the same as 2008, yet BofA has 40,000 more employees now than it did then.

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Short-sellers are betting that the U.S. economy will remain weak for the rest of 2012, and BofA’s still-bloated cost structure will make it very hard for the bank to earn the 50 cents to 60 cents a share in EPS in 2012 that analysts are currently forecasting.

For another take on Bank of America, it was featured in “5 Huge Stocks Ready to Slingshot Higher.”

Hewlett-Packard

Short Position: 53 million shares

Do you think Meg Whitman has regrets? Nearly a year ago, she took the reins of troubled technology giant Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), and was initially met with hopes that she could take bold action to revitalize this company. Yet her only major bold move has been to announce plans to lay off tens of thousands of employees.

That should help preserve profit levels, but investors now wonder if she has any plans to boost the top line. Running HP has proven far more daunting than eBay (EBAY), Whitman’s previous employer.
The short position, though smaller than that of some of the companies noted above, has been growing quickly. The company will deliver fiscal third-quarter results (for the quarter ended July 31) on Aug. 21. Short-sellers are betting that bad news is on the way.

Right now, many analysts assume that the major cost-cutting, which will reduce HP’s headcount by 8% will provide a buffer for profits as sales fall. Yet analysts at Goldman Sachs caution that such an assumption is mistaken, as much of the savings are likely to be re-invested in the business. Consensus profit forecasts for the third and fourth quarter of fiscal 2012 have stayed fairly constant recently, though the slowing economy and the notion that savings will be spent elsewhere could lead HP to deliver a disappointing profit outlook.

HP also shows up on a recent list of 10 Profitable and Oversold Stocks Ready to Move Higher.

To see these stocks in action, visit the 5 Stocks That Could See Major Downside. 

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At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.