Put options are gaining popularity on blue-chip tech concern Cisco Systems, Inc. (CSCO - 17.00), alternative energy stock First Solar, Inc. (FSLR - 13.76), and credit card giant Visa Inc. (V - 117.67). In recent sessions, speculators have shown a distinct appetite for puts over calls on the shares of CSCO, FSLR, and V, indicating a rising tide of bearish sentiment. Here's a closer look at the latest trends in the options pits for these three hot stocks.
Starting with Dow component CSCO, speculators bought to open 6,009 puts and 3,691 calls yesterday on the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX). The day's preference for put continued a growing trend, as CSCO now sports a 10-day ISE/CBOE/PHLX put/call volume ratio of 0.82 -- in the 95th annual percentile. In other words, speculators have purchased puts over calls at a faster clip just 5% of the time during the past year.
This uptick in bearish sentiment is further reflected by a 70.3% surge in short interest during the most recent reporting period. These shorted shares account for a relatively slim 1.6% of CSCO's float, indicating that pessimism is not yet at peak levels. However, it's worth noting that short interest on the tech stock is now at its highest point since last October.
Technically speaking, CSCO suffered a drastic gap lower on May 10, as Wall Street panned its weaker-than-expected guidance. The equity then proceeded to bottom out at $15.92 on June 4, and has since moved modestly higher. CSCO is now attempting to find its footing atop the $17 level, which has alternately served as both support and resistance in the past.
Meanwhile, options players seem well aware of the significance of this chart region. In the soon-to-be front-month option series, peak put open interest of 29,824 contracts can be found at the July 17 strike.
Long-term laggard FSLR has also appeared on the radar of put players. During the past five sessions, options traders on the CBOE have bought to open 31,448 puts on FSLR, along with just 15,983 calls. In other words, speculators have purchased 1.97 times more bearish bets than bullish on the solar-energy stock.
From a broader perspective, the shares have racked up a 10-day put/call volume ratio of 1.79. This ratio ranks higher than 94% of comparable readings taken over the previous 12 months, which points to a healthier-than-usual appetite for pessimistically oriented options in recent weeks.
Elsewhere, a significant number of skeptics have sold FSLR shares short, with short interest accounting for no less than 36% of the stock's float. Taken in context with the recent trend toward puts, it seems safe to say that plenty of traders are betting on the stock to decline.
The momentum is in the bears' favor, as FSLR has been mired in a steady downtrend for more than a year. Since April 2011, the stock has been pressured consistently lower by resistance at its 10-week and 20-week moving averages, and it's down nearly 89% over the past 52 weeks.
Turning to V, traders on Thursday bought to open 2,130 puts and 876 calls on the ISE, CBOE, and PHLX -- netting the stock a single-day put/call volume ratio of 2.43. The equity's 10-day put/call volume ratio now stands at 1.56, which arrives in the bearishly slanted 94th percentile of its annual range.
In fact, V currently sports a Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 1.29, with puts outnumbering calls among options slated to expire within three months. This marks a new annual high for the SOIR, as V's short-term options traders are more put-heavy now than at any other time over the past 52 weeks.
What's more, short interest on the shares jumped by more than 30% during the past two reporting periods, and is now lingering at a new year-to-date high.
Despite the rapidly spreading pessimistic bias on Wall Street, V is still faring quite well on the charts. The stock is up 14.7% in 2012, and a recent pullback was contained at the $112 level -- which marked the site of a bullish gap back in mid-February, and is also home to the equity's supportive 120-day moving average.
If V continues to trend higher along familiar chart support, an unwinding of negative sentiment could keep the wind at the stock's back.
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