The real-estate market may be improving (slowly), but bearish traders on PulteGroup (PHM - 8.74) aren't expecting to see recovery in the shares for at least several months. In morning trading, PHM put volume is pacing 32 times the average, with 50,000 contracts already crossing the tape.
The vast majority of this volume can be attributed to two strikes – the June 8-strike put and the October 8-strike put. It's clear from the trading action that a large-scale speculator is selling out of the soon-to-expire June puts and opening a fresh batch of long puts in the October series.
Around 10:30 a.m. Eastern Time, blocks of 24,500 traded at both strikes. The June puts were evidently sold to close for $0.06 per contract (the bid price at the time of the trade); the October puts were bought to open for $0.94 apiece (one penny above the ask price).
The trader is betting on PHM to move lower between now and October options expiration. If the stock is trading below breakeven of $7.06 when the puts expire, gains are unlimited until the zero mark. Losses for a long put are capped at the premium paid. The October 8 put currently carries a delta of 34%. This means the puts will rise by $0.34 for every $1.00 decline in PHM (and lose $0.34 for every $1.00 increase in the stock). It also represents a 34% chance the put has of being in-the-money when the options expire (all things being equal).
PHM has seen some interesting technical developments of late. In March, the shares closed north of their 40-month moving average for the first time since January 2007 and have remained above this trendline. Last week, the stock successfully tested support at its 160-day moving average, which was a positive technical sign from a shorter-term perspective. And while the stock is down 66% in the past half-decade, shares are up 39% year-to-date.
If the stock continues to move higher along technical support, further buying demand could emerge, leaving today's put buyers out in the cold. Analysts, for example, are beginning to notice the stock's potential. Citigroup weighed in on a number of homebuilding names on Friday and upgraded PHM to "buy" from "neutral." Currently, 11 of the 14 brokerage firms following PHM have named it a "hold," leaving open the potential for additional upgrades to buoy the shares further.
What's more, short interest has just started to roll lower after hitting a 13-month high in early May. Almost 12% of Pulte's float is sold short, providing fuel for a short-covering rally. If analysts continue to toss upgrades toward the stock while short sellers head toward the exits, PHM might enjoy quite a short-term lift.
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