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Short squeeze trading: what is it and how does it work?

Short squeeze trading: Image representation short squeeze trading Pyramid.

Short squeeze trading: What is it and how does it work?

Welcome to the fascinating world of short squeeze trading, where market volatility flourishes. So, how is it possible for some traders to navigate these waves of market chaos? Strap in as we unravel the mysteries, explore the tactics, and reveal the secrets behind this adrenaline-fueled trading phenomenon. So what is short squeeze trading really, and how does it work?

What is Short Squeeze?

A short squeeze is a market phenomenon that occurs when the price of a heavily shorted stock rapidly increases, forcing short sellers to cover their positions by buying shares. It typically happens when a stock with a high level of short interest experiences a sudden surge in buying pressure, causing the stock's price to rise rapidly.

As short sellers rush to exit their positions, they must buy back shares to close their short positions, which further drives up the stock price. The resulting upward pressure can create a self-perpetuating cycle, leading to potential profits for those on the long side of the trade. Short squeezes can be triggered by a variety of factors, such as news, among others as we'll see shortly.

How does it work?

A short squeeze typically involves two distinct phases: the 'short' position and the 'squeeze.'

1. Short Position: In the initial phase, traders who anticipate a decline in a stock's price take short positions. Short selling involves borrowing shares from a broker and selling them in the market, with the expectation of buying them back at a lower price in the future to return to the lender. The short sellers aim to profit from falling stock prices. As more traders short a particular stock, the level of short interest increases, indicating a higher number of outstanding short positions.

2. Squeeze: The 'squeeze' phase occurs when there is a sudden increase in demand for the stock, causing its price to rise rapidly. This surge in buying pressure can stem from various catalysts, such as positive news, strong earnings, or a coordinated effort by retail investors. As the stock price rises, short sellers begin to face potential losses. To limit their losses and exit their short positions, they are compelled to buy back the shares they borrowed and sold.

Here's where the squeeze intensifies: As short sellers scramble to cover their positions by buying shares, their buying activity further drives up the stock price due to increased demand. This upward pressure forces even more short sellers to exit their positions, as they fear even larger losses. The cycle continues as the rising price triggers more short sellers to buy, creating a feedback loop known as the short squeeze. This cycle can result in a rapid and dramatic increase in the stock price.

The short squeeze can lead to a cascading effect, causing significant losses for short sellers and potentially generating substantial profits for those who are long on the stock or able to capitalize on the squeeze. It's important to note that short squeezes are typically short-lived, and the stock price may eventually stabilize or decline once the buying pressure subsides and the short sellers have covered their positions.

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Why short squeezes happen

Short squeezes happen due to a combination of factors and market dynamics. Here are some reasons why short squeezes occur:

Supply and demand imbalance

Short squeezes may be triggered when there is a significant disparity between the supply of shares available for short selling and the demand for those shares. If a heavily shorted stock experiences an unexpected surge in buying interest, the demand for shares may quickly outpace the available supply, leading to a squeeze.

Positive news or catalysts

Positive news or unexpected developments surrounding a stock may act as a catalyst for a short squeeze. This may include strong earnings reports, favorable regulatory decisions, innovative product announcements, or positive industry trends. Such news may attract a wave of bullish sentiment and buying activity, causing short sellers to reassess their positions and exit rapidly.

Coordinated buying efforts

In some cases, short squeezes may be orchestrated by a collective effort of retail investors or online communities. Through platforms like social media, traders may coordinate buying campaigns, encouraging others to join in and create a concentrated buying force. The collective buying power of these groups may trigger a short squeeze by overwhelming short sellers.

Forced short covering

When short sellers face mounting losses and the risk of further price increases, they may be forced to buy shares to cover their positions. This phenomenon is known as forced short covering. As short sellers rush to buy shares, their buying activity fuels the upward momentum, amplifying the squeeze.

Psychological factors

Short squeezes may also be driven by psychological factors such as fear and panic. As short sellers witness the stock price rise rapidly, they may become anxious about potential losses. This fear may intensify as more short sellers rush to exit their positions, contributing to the upward pressure on the stock price.

Short squeeze vs short selling

Short squeeze and short selling are two distinct concepts in the world of trading and investing. Here's a breakdown of the key differences between the two:

Short squeeze Short selling
A short squeeze is a market phenomenon that occurs when a heavily shorted stock experiences a rapid and significant increase in price. It often happens when short sellers rush to buy back shares to cover their positions, which further drives up the stock price due to increased demand. Short selling is a trading strategy where an investor borrows shares of a stock from a broker and sells them in the market, with the expectation that the stock's price will decline. The investor aims to buy back the shares at a lower price in the future to return them to the lender, profiting from the price difference.
Rapid price increase: Short squeezes result in a sharp and sudden increase in the stock price. Profit from declining prices: Short sellers profit when the price of the stock they have shorted falls.
Short sellers exiting positions: Short squeezes are triggered when short sellers rush to cover their positions by buying back shares. Borrowing and selling: Short sellers borrow shares from a broker and sell them in the market.
Increased buying pressure: As short sellers buy back shares, the increased buying activity pushes the stock price even higher. Selling first, buying later: Short sellers sell first (without owning the shares) and buy back later to close their positions.
Potential profits for long traders: Long traders who hold the stock during a short squeeze may experience significant profits. Potentially unlimited losses: Short sellers face unlimited potential losses if the stock price rises significantly.

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The GameStop and AMC short squeeze episodes in early 2021 were notable examples of how short squeezes can impact heavily shorted stocks. Here's a simplified explanation of what transpired:


GameStop (GME), a struggling brick-and-mortar video game retailer, had been heavily shorted by hedge funds due to its perceived declining business model. A group of retail investors on the Reddit forum r/WallStreetBets noticed the high short interest in GameStop and saw an opportunity to drive up the stock price. Through social media platforms and online communities, these retail investors coordinated a massive buying campaign, encouraging others to purchase shares of GameStop.

The collective buying power of retail investors caused a significant surge in GameStop's stock price. In January 2021, GameStop shares were priced at slightly below $20, but by March 2021, their value skyrocketed to $480. As the price increased rapidly, it triggered a short squeeze.

As the stock price soared, short sellers faced mounting losses and were forced to buy back shares to cover their positions, further fueling the price increase. The stock experienced extreme volatility, with large price swings and trading halts due to the market's rapid and unpredictable movements.


A similar sequence of events unfolded with AMC Entertainment, a struggling movie theater chain also heavily shorted by hedge funds. Retail investors on platforms like Reddit again mobilized to support AMC's stock. They rallied together, promoting the idea of "holding the line" and encouraging others to buy and hold AMC shares. This massive influx of retail buying caused AMC's stock price to surge, triggering a short squeeze as short sellers rushed to cover their positions.

The GameStop and AMC short squeezes gained significant media attention, drawing interest from both retail and institutional investors, further impacting market sentiment and price movements. These episodes exemplified the power of coordinated buying efforts by retail investors and the potential consequences for short sellers caught in a squeeze.

They also highlighted the influence of online communities in driving market dynamics and challenging traditional institutional forces. It's important to note that the volatility and rapid price increases seen in these cases were exceptional and not representative of typical market behavior.


While short squeezes may present lucrative opportunities for traders, they also come with risks and potential pitfalls. It is crucial for individuals to conduct thorough research, understand the market dynamics, and manage their risk appropriately before engaging in them.

However, it is equally important to recognize that short squeezes may have broader implications for the financial market. They challenge the traditional dynamics of supply and demand and can create volatile conditions that impact not only individual stocks but also the overall market stability.

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Past performance does not guarantee or predict future performance. This article is offered for general information purposes only and does not constitute investment advice.