Short-sellers turn on pubs and retailers

Short-sellers barred from betting against financial services companies have instead stepped up their targeting of the UK's biggest pub companies and retailers as they try to cash in on the deteriorating consumer outlook.

According to the financial data specialist Data Explorers, JD Wetherspoon and Punch Taverns are the two most shorted shares in the travel and leisure sector, while HMV and DSGi, the pan-European electricals group and owner of the PC World and Currys chains in the UK, are the focus in retailing.

Almost 32 per cent of HMV stock is currently out on loan, most of which would be held by short sellers, while the figure is 26 per cent for DSGi, according to Data Explorers.

Meanwhile, some 18.2 per cent of JD Wetherspoon's shares are out on loan, up from 16.9 per cent on 17 September. While on 1 September 10 per cent of Punch Tavern's shares were out on loan, this had risen to 16.5 per cent on 3 October, said Data Explorers. The average for the FTSE 100 is 4.6 per cent.

Both retailers and pub companies are heavily exposed to the consumer downturn, while the latter have also been hit by the smoking ban in the UK, plus hikes in alcohol duty.