Short Position vs Long Position, Explained

By Mike Zaccardi, CMT, CFA · March 08, 2022 · 6 minute read

We’re here to help! First and foremost, SoFi Learn strives to be a beneficial resource to you as you navigate your financial journey. Read more We develop content that covers a variety of financial topics. Sometimes, that content may include information about products, features, or services that SoFi does not provide. We aim to break down complicated concepts, loop you in on the latest trends, and keep you up-to-date on the stuff you can use to help get your money right. Read less

Short Position vs Long Position, Explained

Though having a long or short position on a stock, option, or exchange-traded fund (ETF) may sound like it has to do with how long an investor has held the shares, in fact it has nothing to do with time and everything to do with whether they own or owe.

Going long is often considered a bullish strategy, while selling short is a bearish strategy. But there are always exceptions to those rules of thumb, and ultimately it can depend on the securities being traded.

Here’s a look at short positions, long positions, and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

What Is a Short Position?

An investor in a short position benefits from a decline in the price of an asset. When you go short, your goal is to sell high then buy back low. Executing a short stock strategy is more complicated than putting on a long trade.

Short Selling a Stock

Short selling a stock is done by borrowing shares from your stock broker, then selling them in the open market. In doing this, you owe interest on the amount borrowed and face potentially unlimited losses since the stock price could hypothetically rise to infinity. You also must continue to meet margin requirements when keeping short trades active.

You must close your short position in the future by repurchasing them in the market (hopefully at a lower price than that at which you sold them) and then return the shares to the broker. A short squeeze is a danger short sellers face since intense short-covering leads to a rapidly appreciating share price.

Short Selling Options

Short and long positions also exist in the world of options trading. You can sell short options by writing contracts. An options seller simply enters a sell-to-open order to initiate a short sale.

The goal is the same as when selling shares short — you want to see the option price drop. That could be a bearish or bullish strategy depending on the options used. Whether you short call vs. put options makes a difference: If you short call options, you are bearish on the underlying security. Shorting puts is considered a bullish strategy.

With options, you can short implied volatility and benefit from the passage of time. These are plays on the options Greeks: vega and theta. Entering a short position on calls and puts is done in the hope of seeing the option premium decline in value — that can come from changes in the underlying asset’s price, but it can also come from a decline in implied volatility and as expiration approaches.

Short Selling ETFs

You can also sell shares of an exchange-traded fund (ETF) short. This play works much like shorting shares of stock in that you are borrowing from your broker, selling shares in the market, then buying them back. But the process of selling an ETF short can also be like selling options in that it may be either a bullish or bearish strategy. If you short an inverse ETF, for example, that would be a bullish strategy.

What Is a Long Position?

A long position vs. short position is simple to grasp. When you go long an asset, you are bullish on its price. Your potential downside is limited to the purchase price and your upside is unlimited. That is a key difference in a long vs. short position, since short positions can feature an unlimited risk of loss with a capped upside potential.

Long Positions and Stocks

To take a long position on shares, you must execute a buy order on a stock in hopes of profiting as the stock price rises. This is basically the way a typical stock purchase works.

Long Position and Options

In options trading, going long means entering a buy-to-open order on either calls or puts. A long options position can be bullish or bearish depending on the type of option traded. For example, in a long call position, you hope that the underlying asset price will appreciate so that your call value increases. In a long put position, you want to see the underlying asset price drop since a put offers the holder the right but not the obligation to sell a security at a prespecified price within a specified time frame.

With options, you can also take a long position on volatility, meaning you hope a stock price becomes more erratic, thus making the options more valuable. A long straddle strategy is one of several strategies for options trading that bets on higher volatility.

Long Position and ETFs

With ETFs, you can go long with a leveraged fund that offers multiples of market exposure. You can also enter a long position on an inverse ETF, which is a bearish play since the fund price rises when the market falls. Be careful, though, market mechanics can make taking a long position with these specialty ETFs for an extended period risky.

Comparing Long Positions vs Short Positions

There are both similarities and differences in a long position vs. short.

Similarities

Both exposures require a market outlook or a prediction of where a single asset price will go. If you are bullish, you would go long a stock or buy call options. If you are bearish, you look to short shares or sell call options. Buying put options in which you take a long position is a bearish strategy, as is taking a short position on call options.

Differences

A short vs. long position has several differences, and the ease at which you execute the trade is among them. For example, typically when taking a long position you’ll be required to pay interest to a broker. Additionally, long positions have unlimited gains and capped losses, whereas short positions have unlimited losses and capped gains.

Similarities in a Long Position vs. Short Position

Differences in a Long Position vs. Short Position

You can go long or short an underlying stock via calls and puts Taking a long position on shares is bullish while going short is bearish
Both long and short positions offer exposure to the market or individual assets Short positions can have potential losses that are unlimited with capped upside — that is the opposite of some long positions
You can take a long or short position with shares of an ETF A long position does not require paying interest to a broker but a short position often does

Pros and Cons of Short Positions

When considering a short position, it can be helpful to look at both the pros and cons.

Pros of Short Positions

Cons of Short Positions

You benefit when the share price drops You owe interest on the amount borrowed
You can short shares and options There’s unlimited risk in selling shares short
Shorting can be a bearish or bullish play There are limited gains since the stock can only drop to zero

Pros and Cons of Long Positions

Likewise, when considering a short position, assessing the benefits and drawbacks can be helpful.

Pros of Long Positions

Cons of Long Positions

You own shares and benefit when the stock rises and can profit from puts when the underlying asset drops in value You face losses on a long stock position and on call options when the share price drops
You can take a long position on calls or puts Taking a long position on inverse ETFs for a long period is risky
There’s unlimited potential upside with calls and shares of stock A long options position is hurt from time decay

The Takeaway

Stock traders either go long or short when it comes to securities. Buying shares and selling short are two ways to profit from changes in an asset’s price. By going long, you purchase a security with the goal of seeing it rise in value. Selling short is a bearish strategy in which you borrow an asset, sell it out to other traders, then buy it back — hopefully at a lower price — so you can return it profitably to the broker.

There are many ways to enter the stock market, trade ETFs, and make other investments that suit your risk tolerance and lifestyle. With SoFi Invest® you can research, track, and trade stocks, ETFs, leveraged ETFs, crypto, and other assets right from your phone.

Find out how to get started with SoFi Invest.

FAQ

Are short positions riskier than long positions?

Yes, short positions can be riskier than long positions. That goes for selling shares of a stock short and when you write options. Speculators often face more risk with their short positions while hedgers might have another position that offsets losses from the short sale.

What makes short positions risky?

You face unlimited potential losses when you are in a short position with stocks and call options. Selling shares short involves borrowing stock, selling it out to the market, then buying it back. There’s a chance that the price at which you buy it back will be much higher than what you initially sold it at.

How long can you hold a short position?

You can hold a short position indefinitely. The major variable to consider is how long the broker allows you to short the stock. The broker must be able to lend shares in order for you to short a stock. There are times when shares cannot be borrowed and when borrowing interest rates turn very high. As the trader, you must also continue to meet margin requirements when selling short.


Photo credit: iStock/Charday Penn

SoFi Invest®
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.
Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.
Options involve risks, including substantial risk of loss and the possibility an investor may lose the entire amount invested in a short period of time. Before an investor begins trading options they should familiarize themselves with the Characteristics and Risks of Standardized Options . Tax considerations with options transactions are unique, investors should consult with their tax advisor to understand the impact to their taxes.
SOIN0221024

All your finances.
All in one app.

SoFi QR code, Download now, scan this with your phone’s camera

All your finances.
All in one app.

App Store rating

SoFi iOS App, Download on the App Store
SoFi Android App, Get it on Google Play

TLS 1.2 Encrypted
Equal Housing Lender