Hot Option Plays: Major Indices Finish Below 200-Day SMA After Hours

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Cusick’s Corner 11-08-2012
Shorts were still hitting the bounces in equities, while the Crude markets have firmed and Energies, XLE, found some traction into the After Hours. Utilities, XLU, also found a bit of wind in the last 60 minutes. There was acquisition news, Priceline and Kayak announced a deal and peers are moving on this news. Sentiment will be the focus in the pre-market Friday when the Michigan sentiment number comes out, this reading gives a good pulse on the consumer in respect to spending and confidence. If Retail, XRT -2%, is an early barometer, this number could spike a little volatility in the morning. See you Midday.

Stock market averages suffered another round of losses Thursday on ongoing worries about the European Debt Crisis and the fiscal challenges facing Washington heading into 2013. The euro has dropped another .2 percent to 1.275 against the dollar and, after seeing modest gains early, most major European equity markets are back in the red. Germany’s DAX was down another .4 percent and slightly larger losses suffered in Spain and Italy. On the domestic economic front, a report released this morning on jobless claims showed a decline to 355,000 last week, from 363,000 the week before and better than the 370,000 that was expected. Any optimism stemming from the numbers was short-lived; as many investors are still worried about the longer-term economic impacts from the $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts set to start early next year. Consequently, while bulls try to regroup after yesterday’s 312-point slide in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the news flow didn’t hold enough fodder to help lift stocks into midday and selling pressure resurfaced in the final hour. At the closing bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down another 121 points, at session lows, and its worst levels in more than three months. The NASDAQ dropped 41.7 points, with help from a 3.6 percent slide in Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL).

Bullish
US Bancorp (NYSE:USB) lost 22 cents to $32.17 and options volume on the bank was 4.5X the daily average Thursday, with help from a substantial November – December put spread. In this strategy, the investor bought 14,300 November 34 puts on USB for $1.25 per contract and sold 14,300 December 34 puts on the stock at $1.54. A source on the exchange floor confirms that the USB Nov-Dec 34 put spread was sold at 29 cents, 14300X. Looking at trade history and open interest, it seems probable that the activity was rolling. That is, the investor was short the Nov 34 puts on USB and the contract is now in-the-money heading into next week’s expiration. Rather than deal with the risk of assignment as the expiration approaches, they are covering the position through an offsetting purchase (buy-to-close). Additionally, a new position is being sold-to-open in USB Dec 34 puts. Assignment of the Dec 34 puts is less probable at this point in time because there is greater time value remaining in the contract and it is typically not ideal for an option owner to exercise a contract with significant time value. Moreover, the strategist is possibly looking for the stock to reclaim $34 by the December expiration and is therefore expressing confidence in the stock by writing those in-the-money puts. If the stock climbs above $34 by the expiration, the put is out-of-the-money and expires worthless. There is no reason for an investor to “put” the stock at $34 (strike price) per share right now when it fetches more in the market. The stock was notching new 52-week highs of more than $35 in early-October.

Bullish trading was also seen in International GameTech (NYSE:IGT), James River Coal (NASDAQ:JRCC), and Crocs (NASDAQ:CROX).

Bearish
The largest equity options trades across the entire market Thursday surfaced in Bank of America (NYSE:BAC). The stock added 16 cents to $9.39 after sliding 7.1 percent during Wednesday’s volatile trading session. In options action Thursday, an investor bought a hefty block of 30,000 February 9 puts on BAC for 50 cents per contract and sold 40,000 February 7 puts at 10 cents per contract. The 3X4 put ratio spread appears to be a new position (because volume exceeds open interest in both contracts) and, if so, a bearish play on BAC that offers its best payout if shares are trading for $7 per share at the February 2013. At that point, the 9 puts, which were bought, are worth $2 and the $7 puts, that are sold, expire worthless. A shareholder with a large position in BAC might have initiated the spread to help hedge a stock position heading into 2013.

Bearish trading was also seen in Analog Devices (NYSE:ADI), Mead Johnson (MJN), and General Mills (NYSE:GIS).

Index Trading
Options activity is picking up in the index market amid increasing levels of market volatility. 746,000 calls and 918,000 puts traded across the S& P 500 Index (.SPX), CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX), and other cash index products today, which is about 1.25X the average daily levels, according to Trade Alert data. SPX lost 17.02 to 1,377.51 and has dropped 3.6 percent in just two days. December 1300 and 1325 puts were the most actives in the SPX pit today. Meanwhile, VIX, which tracks the expected volatility of S&P 500 options, eased .59 to 18.49 despite the market’s slide. The volatility index typically ticks higher when the S&P 500 dips lower. However, VIX was up 8.5 percent to multi-month highs of 19.08 yesterday. So, today’s dip might be a bit technical in nature. Interestingly, volumes were light in the VIX pit, with about 226,000 calls and 91,000 puts traded on the day. November 18 puts and 20 calls were the most actives.

ETF Action
iShares Emerging Markets Fund (EEM) was down 52 cents to $40.92 Thursday and implied volatility in the options on the ETF moved up amid increasing put activity in the ETF today. About 378,000 puts and 146,000 calls traded on EEM today. The top trade was a 104,000-contract block of Nov 40.5 puts for 38 cents per contract. While the trade hit on the bid-side of the bid-ask spread, a source on the exchange floor reports that a buyer initiated the trade. If so, it seems to be a bearish play, or possibly hedge, on the emerging markets. More than 130,000 of these downside puts traded. Meanwhile, implied volatility in EEM options, as measured by the VXEEM Index, rose 1.38 points to 24.95.

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