Hot Option Plays: Bear Trying To Grab The Bull By The Horns?

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Cusick’s Corner
Today’s intraday reversal held up well and gave short-term longs some breathing room into the After Hours. I will be watching to see if the longs start to sell into strength since we are at mid-term support and there’s not a ton of conviction. I would also be careful of bottom picking at this stage — leave that one to the proctologists. Markets can stay overbought, especially if the mid-term trading range does establish a true bearish sentiment. Additionally, EU stocks are still performing quite poorly so keep an eye on them, they have been trending with the US equities and if they continue to trade poorly then it is going to be hard to see short-/mid-term support for big upside. See you Midday.

Stock market averages opened lower, but recovered much of the morning losses and are drifting higher into midday. Another round of losses across the Eurozone set the table for morning volatility on Wall Street after Spain’s IBEX fell 2.2 percent and Italy’s MIB Index lost 1.1 percent. The concerns are the same. Namely, investors are worried that recent elections in Greece will undermine efforts to solve the country’s ongoing fiscal crisis. The debt crisis threatens the banking system and economic activity in the region, which in turn can weigh on global economic activity and corporate profits in America.

Bullish
Cisco (NASDAQ:CSCO) is seeing high volume ahead of earnings. The networking giant is due to release a quarterly profit report after the closing bell today. The largest trade, by number of contracts, in Cisco is an 8,000-contract block of Weekly $19 calls for 45 cents per contract. Shares closed up 7 cents to $18.78 and an investor might have bought the block to lock in the right to buy the stock for $19 per share, or 1.2 percent above current levels, through the remainder of the week. If the report is bullish and lifts shares beyond $19, they can exercise their right to call the stock and take ownership (100 shares per call option bought) for $19 per share. If the stock falls on the news, stays below $19 through the expiration, and the position is left open, the contract will expire worthless and the debit paid is lost. Of course, the position can be closed out for a profit or loss at any time prior to the expiration through an offsetting trade. More than 25,000 of these Weekly $19 calls on Cisco have changed hands today.

Bullish trading was also seen in Barrick Gold (NYSE:ABX), MetroPCS (NYSE:PCS), and OfficeMax (NYSE:OMX).

Bearish
Capital One (NYSE:COF) closed 54 cents lower to $53.53 and today’s options volume of 15,500 contracts is 2.5X the daily average for the name. Most of the volume is in the September 49 puts on the credit card company. The largest trade is a 1000-lot for $2.64 when the market was $2.58 to $2.64. It appears that a buyer initiated the trade. 8,275 Sep 49 puts have now traded on Capital One and levels of implied volatility are moving up 3 percent to 30.5. Shares performed well in the first few months of the year and touched 52-week highs in late-March. The stock is down 6.6 percent since that time and some investors might be buying downside September puts today against stock positions to help protect gains, or hedge risk, of further losses in the months ahead.

Bearish trading was also seen in Annaly Capital (NYSE:NLY), Hertz (NYSE:HTZ), and Dick’s Sporting Goods (NYSE:DKS).

Index Trading
CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX) sees another spike in early trading. The market’s so-called “fear gauge”, which tracks the expected volatility priced into S&P 500 options, jumped to 20.65 in morning action, but erased some of those gains and added 1.03 to finish 20.08 on the day. The index hit a morning high of 21.79 Wednesday morning, but has since given most of the gains and is up just .42 to 19.42. Trading in the VIX pit seems to be picking up a bit due to the gyrations. 214,000 calls and 126,000 puts traded on the index so far. July 40 calls are the most actives. 21,300 traded, as some investors might be taking position in July upside calls on concerns that events overseas will trigger another spike in market volatility heading into the summer months.

ETF Action
iShares Japan Fund (EWJ) closed off 8 cents to $9.32 and interesting options trades on the exchange-traded fund today include a buyer of 50,000 September 10 calls on the AMEX. A source at the exchange confirms that the block was bought. 100,000 contracts now traded at an average of 13 cents per contract and appears to be opening activity. EWJ, which holds leading companies from the Tokyo Stock Exchange, has been reeling lately and is down 4.4 percent since April 26. Today’s hefty call purchase might express confidence that the market will rebound in the months ahead.

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