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Trump Media suggests illegal shorts are cratering its stock

Katherine Doherty, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

NEW YORK — Trump Media & Technology Group Corp. says an illegal form of short selling might be behind the battering of its stock and it’s asking regulators at Nasdaq Inc. to step in.

The company backing former President Donald Trump’s Truth Social network penned a letter to Nasdaq Chair Adena Friedman asking her to ensure market makers are following rules that prevent “naked” short sales. Trump Media pointed to data that it claims is an indication of “potential market manipulation.”

Trump Media’s stock has lost about half its value after topping $66 a share in the days following a merger that turned it into a publicly traded firm. Among the explanations for the stock’s swoon in recent days has been the company’s scarce revenue and lack of any profit. Skepticism about Trump Media’s business prospects is widespread, as the firm reported just $4 million in revenue last year and a loss of more than $50 million.

That and a valuation north of $8 billion sparked a wave of bets against the stock, including short sales. Investors also have to mull the impact of Trump’s legal woes, which include an ongoing criminal trial in Manhattan.

Short sellers can make a legal profit by borrowing shares from current owners for a fee, selling the stock and then buying the shares back if the price falls. The short seller then returns the borrowed shares to their owner and pockets the price difference.

But selling the stock without actually borrowing any shares — a naked short sale — isn’t allowed. Trump Media says its wants Nasdaq to ensure market makers are following rules that require brokers to disclose their “net short” positions, and prevent the lending of shares that don’t actually exist.

“This is particularly troubling given that ‘naked’ short selling often entails sophisticated market participants profiting at the expense of retail investors,” Trump Media Chief Executive Officer Devin Nunes said in the letter.

The stock closed at $36.38 Friday in New York.

Trump Media said its stock was reportedly “the most expensive U.S. stock to short,” which gives brokers “a significant financial incentive to lend nonexistent shares.” It cited four market participants that it says were responsible for over 60% of the extraordinary volume of the shares traded, including Citadel Securities, Virtu Americas, G1 Execution Services and Jane Street Capital.

The data cited by Trump Media don’t necessarily reflect any unusual activity or indicate any wrongdoing. A Citadel Securities representative rejected Trump Media’s claim and criticized Nunes for trying to “blame ‘naked short selling’ for his falling stock price.” A representative for Virtu declined to comment; the other firms didn’t immediately respond to messages.

 

“Nasdaq is committed to the principles of liquidity, transparency, and integrity in all our markets,” a representative for Nasdaq said in an emailed statement. “We have long been an advocate of transparency in short selling and have been an active supporter of the Securities & Exchange Commission’s rules and enforcement efforts designed to monitor and prohibit naked short selling.”

Image Problem

Short sellers have long had a dark image in the popular mind — not always justified — that paints Wall Street actors as out for profit at the expense of American companies and their employees, as well as retail traders. Practitioners of short selling argue that they expose weak companies and serve as a check on managers who exaggerate their prospects.

Trump Media tapped into the negative image in a Thursday regulatory filing that offered advice on how stockholders can shield their shares from being lent to short sellers. The filing suggested the practice was a tussle between the “retail investor” and “sophisticated and institutional investors.” Friday’s letter to Nasdaq similarly suggests big market makers are profiting at the expense of retail traders, attempting to pit Wall Street against mom and pop.

Keeping the stock price up would also bolster the next round of shares that Trump Media might hand out. If the stock trades above $17.50 for 20 of 30 days, Trump Media holders would be entitled to receive as many as 40 million additional shares — with the majority earmarked for Trump himself.

The company’s listing in March also restricts certain insiders from selling shares for six months, a lockup period that carries into October. The new shares and the end of the lockup could hurt ordinary shareholders by diluting their stakes, and perhaps drive down the market price if the insiders decide to cash out large portions of their holdings.

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(—With assistance from Carmen Reinicke.)


©2024 Bloomberg L.P. Visit bloomberg.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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