With corporate earnings season well underway, United Therapeutics Corporation (UTHR - 46.70) stepped into the spotlight this morning and released its fourth-quarter results. UTHR saw its profit more than quadruple to $43.2 million, or 79 cents per share, from $9.5 million, or 17 cents per share, in the year-ago period. Excluding items, earnings came in at $1.61 per share. Revenue, meanwhile, increased 20% to $195.2 million. The biotech firm's results were mixed, though, as analysts were predicting earnings of 87 cents per share on $204.8 million in revenue. Looking ahead, UTHR expects its 2012 revenue to range within 5% above or below $875 million, compared to Wall Street's forecast for $880.3 million in revenue.
In the wake of these poorly received results, UTHR has declined roughly 5% so far today, erasing its 4.3% gain for 2012. At last check, the stock is cowering beneath the $47 level, steepening its slide beneath the $50-$52 region -- which has contained every weekly close since August 2011.
Ahead of earnings, the options pits appeared to be loaded with optimism, as evidenced by UTHR's 10-day call/put volume ratio of 11.01 on the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX). This ratio ranks in the 83rd percentile of its annual range, signaling that speculators on these exchanges have made bullish bets over bearish at a faster pace than usual during the past couple of weeks.
Plus, the equity's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 0.54 indicates that calls nearly double puts among options slated to expire within three months. This ratio arrives in the 10th percentile of its annual range, suggesting that short-term options players have rarely been more call-heavy during the past year.
However, short sellers could be responsible for some of the call buying of late, picking up optimistic options to hedge their pessimistic positions. Short interest now accounts for 10.3% of the security's available float.
Elsewhere on the Street, the brokerage bunch is overwhelmingly upbeat toward UTHR. According to Zacks, 71% of analysts consider the stock worthy of a "strong buy" endorsement.
Should UTHR's technical and fundamental woes continue to plague the shares, a fresh round of downgrades and/or a change of heart among bullish options traders could create further obstacles in the near term.
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