With corporate earnings season in full swing, Ralph Lauren Corporation (RL - 172.78) stepped into the confessional and revealed its fiscal third-quarter results. RL posted a quarterly profit of $169 million, or $1.78 per share, up 0.4% from its year-ago profit of $168 million, or $1.72 per share. Thanks to a healthy 12% growth in same-store sales, revenue increased 17% to $1.8 billion. The results surpassed expectations, as Wall Street was looking for a profit of $1.67 per share on sales of $1.75 billion. Looking ahead, the upscale clothier lifted its fiscal 2012 guidance, predicting its revenue will rise by about 20%.
RL was able to capitalize on this well-received report, and has jumped roughly 9.5% so far today, tagging a new all-time high right out of the gate. This jump has amplified the stock's 13.8% year-to-date gain, and 35.7% climb over the past 52 weeks. At last check, the shares are looking to solidify their perch above the $170 mark.
Considering RL's impressive price action, it's not surprising to see the options pits growing more optimisitc. During the past two weeks, speculators on the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) have bought to open 2.01 calls for every put. This ratio arrives in the 80th percentile of its annual range, signaling that traders on these exchanges have rarely purchased bullish bets over bearish at a faster clip during the past year.
However, there could be a less-than-bullish reason for this call-heavy activity. Short interest on the equity swelled 20.5% during the most recent reporting period, and now accounts for a healthy 4.8% of the equity's available float. Oftentimes, short traders will purchase calls as hedges for their bearish bets -- and this could be what's occurring here.
Elsewhere on the Street, analysts were already pessimistically slanted toward this outperformer. According to Zacks, 67% of brokerages have doled out a lukewarm "hold" for RL. Furthermore, Thomson Reuters places the average 12-month price target at $165, which is more than a $13 discount to today's record high of $178.47.
As RL continues to scale the charts, a round of fresh upgrades and/or price-target hikes, or an unwinding of pessimism among the shorts, could fuel the stock's fire.
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