Bearish speculation has been heating up lately on energy concern Arch Coal, Inc. (ACI - 5.70), chip stock Intel Corporation (INTC - 26.78), and sports apparel specialist Under Armour, Inc. (UA - 101.98). In recent sessions, options traders on the major exchanges have shown a healthy appetite for puts over calls on ACI, INTC, and UA, with this pessimistic activity fast approaching annual-high levels. Here's a closer look at the latest trends in the options pits for these three hot stocks.
Starting with ACI, options players on the International Securities Exchange (ISE) have bought to open 10,590 puts during the past five sessions, compared to just 405 calls -- netting the stock a top-heavy put/call volume ratio of 26.15.
In fact, over the past 10 trading days, ACI has racked up a put/call volume ratio of 1.34, according to combined buy-to-open data from the ISE, Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX). This ratio ranks higher than 97% of other such readings taken during the previous year, indicating that traders have favored puts over calls by a wider margin only 3% of the time.
Elsewhere, there are also quite a few short sellers betting on ACI to backpedal. Despite a 6.3% decline during the past month, short interest still accounts for a formidable 18.7% of the security's float.
Considering the stock's steep downhill trajectory on the charts, it's not too difficult to determine why traders have grown so bearish toward ACI. The shares are sitting on a year-to-date decline of more than 60%, guided steadily lower by their 10-day and 20-day moving averages. In fact, ACI tagged a fresh decade-plus low of $5.62 earlier today.
As for INTC, the Dow component has also attracted the attention of option bears. On Wednesday alone, in fact, speculators on the ISE, CBOE, and PHLX bought to open 12,870 INTC puts, along with just 3,179 calls. In other words, options players picked up 4.05 times more puts than calls during the course of the session.
From a longer-term standpoint, INTC now sports a 10-day ISE/CBOE/PHLX put/call volume ratio of 1.80, as puts bought to open have roughly doubled calls over the past couple of weeks. This ratio outranks 95% of other such readings taken during the previous year, as speculative investors have rarely shown a stronger preference for puts relative to calls.
Short interest is also ramping up on the tech titan, with the number of shorted shares increasing by 9.1% during the most recent reporting period. Until this recent uptick, short interest on INTC had been steadily declining since last fall.
While the stock has been heavily targeted by bears lately, INTC is actually holding up well on the charts. The shares have gained 9.4% year-to-date, and a recent pullback was contained by the equity's rising 200-day moving average. If the stock's rebound from support continues, the shares could benefit as some of the weaker bearish hands hit the exits.
As for UA, which recently unveiled plans for a two-for-one stock split, the shares drew a healthy dose of put buying on Wednesday. Traders on the ISE, CBOE, and PHLX bought to open 1,073 puts by the close, compared to just 462 calls -- resulting in a single-day put/call volume ratio of 2.32.
The day's trend toward pessimistically oriented options helped push UA's 10-day ISE/CBOE/PHLX put/call volume ratio up to 1.18, in the skeptically slanted 87th annual percentile. In fact, the equity's 50-day put/call volume ratio is docked at 0.81, in the 95th percentile of its annual range -- just five percentage points from a bearish peak.
As with ACI and INTC, short sellers have also taken notice of UA. The security's short-to-float ratio stands at an inflated 14%, and it would take more than six sessions -- at UA's average daily trading volume -- for all of these shorted shares to be covered.
UA has blazed a steady path higher on the charts, having rallied an impressive 40.6% so far in 2012. This advance has been highlighted by support at the stock's 10-day, 20-day, and 80-day moving averages.
Considering the equity's significant outperformance, it's possible that some of these put buyers are actually shareholders looking to hedge against a potential decline, or lock in paper profits. However, with so much short interest levied against UA, the shares could still benefit from a capitulation by these stubborn skeptics.
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