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Speculative players have been taking sides on retail concerns J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP), Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT), and Coach, Inc. (NYSE:COH), according to data from the major options exchanges. More specifically, while JCP has been targeted by option bulls, bearish bets are ramping up on TGT and COH. Let's take a closer look.

J.C. Penney Company, Inc. (NYSE:JCP)

During the past 50 sessions, option traders on the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) have bought to open more JCP calls than puts, as evidenced by the stock's call/put volume ratio of 1.40. Even more telling, this ratio stands just 6 percentage points from a 52-week peak, suggesting speculators are buying JCP calls over puts at a rapid-fire rate.

Echoing that, JCP sports a Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 0.72, indicating that calls outnumber puts among options expiring within three months. What's more, this ratio sits just 4 percentage points from an annual nadir, suggesting near-term option traders have rarely been more call-heavy during the past year.

In the newly front-month August series of options, peak call open interest rests at the out-of-the-money 19 strike, with close to 31,000 contracts outstanding. It's worth noting, too, that short interest accounts for more than 35.5% of JCP's total available float. Against this backdrop, it's possible that short sellers are picking up out-of-the-money calls to hedge their bearish bets.

On the charts, JCP has surrendered more than 17.5% in 2013, and is currently docked at $16.22. The security has underperformed the broader S&P 500 Index (SPX) by more than 17 percentage points during the past two months, and continues to stare up at its 10-month moving average, which hasn't been conquered on a monthly closing basis since April 2012.

Target Corporation (NYSE:TGT)

During the past five days, traders on the CBOE have bought to open 2,589 TGT puts, compared to just 174 calls -- resulting in a lopsided put/call volume ratio of 14.88.

Expanding that to include data from the ISE and PHLX, TGT has racked up a 10-day put/call volume ratio of 19.72, indicating that speculators have bought to open nearly 20 puts for every call during the past two weeks. This ratio sits just 3 percentage points from a 12-month high, suggesting option buyers are snatching up bearish bets over bullish at a near annual-high pace.

It's not surprising, then, to find TGT's SOIR at 2.21, indicating that puts more than double calls among options with a shelf-life of three months or less. This ratio ranks higher than 80% of all other readings of the past year, pointing to a healthier-than-usual put bias of late. What's more, now is an opportune time to buy short-term options, as the stock's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) rests at an annual low of 14%.

Echoing that skepticism, short interest skyrocketed 35.4% during the past month, and now accounts for 19.7 million TGT shares. In fact, at the stock's average pace of trading, it would take almost a week to buy back all of these bearish bets.

Technically speaking, TGT has added more than 23% in 2013, touching a new record high of $73.10 earlier today. At last check, the shares are taking a breather in the $72.99 vicinity. Should the stock extend its uptrend, a mass exodus of bears could add contrarian fuel to the fire.

Coach, Inc. (NYSE:COH)

In the same vein, option traders have upped the bearish ante on COH, buying to open nearly three puts for every call during the past two weeks on the ISE, CBOE, and PHLX. The resulting 10-day put/call volume ratio of 2.64 registers in the 88th percentile of its annual range, highlighting an accelerated rate of put purchases of late.

The equity's short-term options are growing more expensive, though, heading into Coach's scheduled earnings release on Tuesday, July 30. The stock's SVI has ascended to 35%, above 40% of all other readings of the past year.

Elsewhere on Wall Street, despite slumping by nearly 11% during the past month, short interest still represents almost a week's worth of pent-up buying demand, at COH's average pace of trading. Meanwhile, the average 12-month price target of $63.40 implies expected upside of just 7.2% to COH's current perch at $59.14.

On the charts, COH has spent the past few months stagnating between support in the $56 region and resistance at $60. Off the charts, Coach has topped per-share profit estimates in three of the past four quarters, but averages a loss of 4.4% in the day after earnings.


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