Speculative players have been taking sides on blue chip Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ), automaker General Motors Company (NYSE:GM), and Finnish telecom concern Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:NOK), according to data from the major options exchanges. While the latter has seen heavy call volume in recent weeks, JNJ and GM have become favorites among put buyers. Here's a closer look at recent option activity on these three stocks.
Johnson & Johnson (NYSE:JNJ)
During the past five days, options traders on the International Securities Exchange (ISE) and Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) have bought to open 7,270 puts on JNJ, compared to just 2,597 calls -- resulting in a put/call volume ratio of 2.80.
Broadening that, JNJ has racked up a 10-day put/call volume ratio of 1.25 on the ISE, CBOE, and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX). Not only does this ratio indicate that traders have bought to open more bearish bets than bullish during the past two weeks, it also arrives in the 84th percentile of its annual range. This suggests options players have purchased puts over calls at a faster pace only 16% of the time during the last year.
Outside of the options pits, Johnson & Johnson -- which agreed to buy privately held Aragon Pharmaceuticals for up to $1 billion -- remains plagued by pessimism as well. Short interest represents more than a week's worth of pent-up buying demand, at the stock's average daily trading volume.
On the charts, JNJ is up 0.5% at $86.09, and is on pace to end north of its 10-day and 20-day moving averages for the first time since May 22, when the equity tagged a record high of $89.99. Should the blue chip continue to assail new heights, an unwinding of skepticism in the options arena, or a short-covering situation, could add contrarian fuel to the fire.
General Motors Company (NYSE:GM)
In the same vein, GM has emerged on option bears' collective radar. During the past five sessions, speculators on the ISE and CBOE have bought to open 16,472 puts, compared to 5,010 calls -- resulting in a put/call volume ratio of 3.29. Adding data from the PHLX into the mix, the stock sports a 10-day put/call volume ratio of 1.24 -- just 1 percentage point from an annual high. Or, in simpler terms, option buyers have rarely picked up GM puts over calls at a faster pace.
It's not surprising, then, to find the security's SOIR at a 52-week peak of 0.95. In other words, near-term options traders haven't been more put-biased toward GM during the past year. In the soon-to-be front-month July series, the 33 strike has seen the most action, with roughly 5,000 contracts added during the past two weeks. Nevertheless, the near-the-money July 34 strike remains home to peak put open interest in the series, with almost 7,500 contracts in residence.
After touching a two-year high of $35.49 earlier this month, the shares of GM have taken a breather, and were last seen in the $33.74 vicinity. Should the stock resume its quest for new highs, a mass exodus of option bulls could translate into a contrarian boon. What's more, it would take nearly six sessions for short interest to unwind -- ample fuel for a potential short squeeze.
Nokia Corporation (ADR) (NYSE:NOK)
Finally, call buyers have set their sights on NOK. During the past five sessions, the stock has seen 14,786 calls change hands, compared to 1,095 puts, resulting in a bullishly skewed call/put ratio of 13.50. In the same vein, the stock's 10-day call/put volume ratio on the ISE, CBOE, and PHLX rests at a 12-month high of 8.69.
Elsewhere on Wall Street, though, the sentiment scales are bearishly tipped. Just four out of 18 analysts deems NOK worthy of a "buy" or better rating, and the average 12-month price target of $3.30 represents a discount to the stock's current perch at $3.72. Meanwhile, short interest represents eight sessions' worth of pent-up buying demand, at the stock's average daily trading volume.
Technically speaking, 2013 has been a struggle for NOK, with the stock shedding roughly 6%. More recently, the equity has run into speed bumps in the formerly supportive $3.80 neighborhood, which has smacked NOK lower since February. What's more, the July 4 strike harbors more than 50,500 calls outstanding, which could translate into an additional options-related roadblock in the short term.
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