Beverage maker Constellation Brands, Inc. (NYSE:STZ - 22.02) has seen a rare pop in put activity today, a session after the stock soared on hopes for a buyout of its Crown Imports venture with Grupo Modelo, and just a few sessions before its turn in the earnings confessional on Friday. At last check, STZ has seen roughly 4,600 puts change hands -- about 46 times its average intraday put activity, and around eight times the number of STZ calls exchanged.
Digging deeper, nearly all of the action has centered on the stock's out-of-the-money July 20 put, which has seen almost 4,100 contracts change hands on open interest of fewer than 2,300, pointing to an influx of new positions. Plus, the majority of the puts have traded at the ask price, suggesting they were bought. By purchasing the puts to open, the buyers have one of two motives: to bet on a breach of $20 within the next few weeks, or to "insure" a long stock position.
If it's the latter, the protective put buyers are essentially locking in their recent profits. Or, in other words, they're guaranteeing that the least they receive for their STZ stake is $20 per share, should the equity retreat in the short term. As such, they're shareholders first and options traders second, meaning their primary goal is still for STZ to extend its recent uptrend. Like any other insurance holder, they're willing to sacrifice the premium paid in order to avoid a greater financial catastrophe.
As alluded to earlier, today's appetite for puts runs counter to the recent trend. The stock sports a 10-day call/put volume ratio of 6.07 on the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), indicating that traders have bought to open more than six calls for every put during the past two weeks. Plus, this ratio registers in the 79th percentile of its annual range, implying that speculators have initiated bullish bets over bearish at a faster-than-usual clip recently.
As a result, the security's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) has spiked to 46% -- in the 77th annual percentile. In other words, STZ's short-term options are relatively expensive at the moment, meaning the aforementioned put buyers are paying a pretty penny.
Technically speaking, STZ is attempting to continue yesterday's momentum, which carried it north of the $21-$21.50 region for the first time since early May. This area has acted as both support and resistance for STZ over the past couple of years, and could once again translate into a foothold. Plus, the shares are now on track to end atop their 10-week and 20-week moving averages for the first time since early April. This duo of trendlines ushered STZ to a four-year high in the first half of the year, and could now resume their role as a technical backstop.
However, not everyone has boarded STZ's bullish bandwagon just yet. Currently, only three out of seven analysts consider the equity worthy of a "buy" or better rating. Likewise, the consensus 12-month price target of $25 represents expected upside of only 13% to STZ's current price. Should the company report stronger-than-expected earnings next week, or should the firm announce a bid for its Crown Imports venture, a wave of upgrades and/or price-target boosts could act as contrarian boons for the stock.
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