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Option Trend Tracker: MOS, ORCL, and ZNGA

Puts are popular on Mosaic and Oracle, while call players are targeting Zynga

by 6/12/2012 11:05:29 AM
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Option activity has been heating up lately on agri-chemical concern The Mosaic Company (MOS - 47.77), software heavyweight Oracle Corporation (ORCL - 26.91), and social gaming stock Zynga Inc. (ZNGA - 4.98). Puts are becoming the options of choice on MOS and ORCL, while speculators are showing a healthy appetite for calls on ZNGA. Here's a closer look at the latest trends in the options pits for these three hot stocks.

Kicking things off with MOS, traders on the International Securities Exchange (ISE) have bought to open 2,843 puts during the past five sessions, compared to only 309 calls. The resulting five-day put/call volume ratio of 9.20 highlights a strong bias toward bearishly oriented options.

From a broader perspective, MOS has racked up a 10-day put/call volume ratio of 1.22, according to buy-to-open data from the ISE, Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX). This ratio ranks higher than 95% of other such readings taken during the previous year, revealing that speculators have purchased puts over calls at a faster clip just 5% of the time.

MOS weekly price chartFurther cementing this pessimistic slant toward MOS is the equity's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR), which currently checks in at 1.65. Not only does this ratio indicate that puts easily outnumber calls among options slated to expire within three months, it also arrives in the 97th percentile of its annual range. In other words, short-term options players have been more put-heavy only 3% of the time during the past year.

MOS is down about 28% over the past 52 weeks, pressured lower by double-barreled resistance at its 10-week and 40-week moving averages. The shares also recently breached round-number support at the $50 level, which now appears to be switching roles to serve as an additional roadblock.

The company has also endured some fundamental rough patches, having fallen short of analysts' earnings estimates in two of its past three quarterly reports. With MOS due to report its fourth-quarter results on Tuesday, July 17, skeptical speculators could be positioning for another negative surprise.

Put players have also been eyeing ORCL in recent weeks. Over the past five sessions, traders on the ISE have bought to open no fewer than 8,445 puts on Larry Ellison's company, compared to a mere 629 calls. The resulting five-day put/call volume ratio is 13.43, which points to a strongly bearish bias among speculators on this exchange.

ORCL monthly price chartIn fact, ORCL now sports a 10-day ISE/CBOE/PHLX put/call volume ratio of 1.09, with puts bought to open narrowly outnumbering calls over the past couple of weeks. This ratio ranks higher than 86% of comparable readings taken during the prior 52 weeks, indicating that traders have shown a greater-than-usual appetite for puts over calls of late.

Looking ahead to next week's calendar, ORCL is set to confess its fourth-quarter earnings next Thursday, June 21. Analysts are looking for a profit of 78 cents per share, slightly improved from 75 cents per share in the year-ago quarter. The tech giant has topped consensus profit expectations in three of its past four quarterly reports.

The stock's technical outlook is less encouraging. ORCL is down 15.2% over the past year, and the shares have been pressured lower since December by resistance at their 10-month and 20-month moving averages. These formerly supportive trendlines completed a bearish cross earlier this year, and could continue in their role as resistance going forward. On the other hand, familiar support at $25 so far remains intact.

ZNGA daily price chartFinally, social gaming stock ZNGA has become a favorite target of call buyers, according to data from the major exchanges. Speculators on the ISE and CBOE have bought to open 7,843 calls on ZNGA over the past five days, along with just 2,373 puts. In other words, traders have scooped up 3.31 calls for every put during the previous week.

Likewise, the security's 10-day ISE/CBOE/PHLX call/put volume ratio arrives at 3.29, confirming a strong preference for bullish bets over bearish.

However, it's worth noting that short interest on ZNGA has been racing higher. Following a 31.8% jump during the past two reporting periods, shorted shares now represent no less than 11.6% of the security's float. With short interest and buy-to-open call volume rising simultaneously, it's entirely possible that ZNGA bears are picking up calls in order to limit their upside risk, rather than to speculate on a bounce by the shares.

In light of the stock's downright bleak price action, this theory seems highly probable. ZNGA is down 41% year-to-date -- and the shares have plummeted another 10% in today's trading, pressured by a negative note from Cowen suggesting that the trend toward Facebook-based games is on the decline. As a result, the security is trading well below short-term pressure at its 10-day moving average. Today's steep downturn has triggered short-selling restrictions, which could spark renewed interest in ZNGA puts.

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