December 2, 2015 / 9:40 PM / 4 years ago

Freshly minted Square shares become target for short sellers

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Short sellers did not wait long to bet against mobile payments company Square Inc (SQ.N), whose steeply discounted initial public offering last month increased concerns about sky-high valuations for Silicon Valley’s biggest startups.

Jack Dorsey (L), CEO of Square and CEO of Twitter, and Jim McKelvey, co-founder of Square, (2nd R) applaud as NYSE President Tom Farley (R) fist bumps Mac Riley after the IPO of Square Inc., in New York November 19, 2015. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

About 85 percent of Square shares available for lending from institutional investors have been snapped up since the Nov. 18 IPO, with borrowers paying a 45 percent annualized interest rate, according to data from SunGard’s Astec Analytics.

SunGard’s share lending data gives a strong indication of activity by short sellers, who bet that a stock will fall in price. Short sellers borrow shares and then sell them, hoping to buy them back later at a lower price and then return the shares to the lender.

About 9 percent of Square’s shares were sold in the IPO, which means only a small portion of the company’s total shares are potentially available to be lent to short sellers.

Co-founded and still run by Twitter Inc (TWTR.N) Chief Executive Jack Dorsey, Square’s high-profile IPO was discounted to less than 60 percent of the company’s last private valuation in 2014. The shares soared as much as 64 percent on Nov. 19 in Square’s first day of trading.

On Wednesday, Square shares were up 0.47 percent at $11.97. That leaves them down 8 percent from the closing price on the first trading day, but 33 percent above the $9 per share IPO price.

Founded in 2009, Square has built buzz and a substantial customer base with a credit card reader that can turn a mobile device into a payment terminal.

But it faces intense competition in the payments market, with Apple Inc (AAPL.O) launching its Apple Pay service, Inc (AMZN.O) exploring in-store payments, and startups such as Stripe Inc entering the fray.

Thirty-nine-year-old Dorsey’s dual role as CEO of both Square and Twitter, another company with substantial obstacles to growing profits, has been of concern to shareholders in both companies.

Square’s IPO filings show a net loss of $29.6 million in the second quarter, ballooning to nearly $54 million in the third quarter.

Reporting by Noel Randewich; Editing by Leslie Adler

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