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The shares of AK Steel Holding Corporation (NYSE:AKS - 4.90) are tumbling in early trading, and it looks like a few options traders are gambling on even more downside for the stock this week. Already today, the commodity concern has seen roughly 8,000 puts cross the tape -- more than 20 times its typical intraday put volume, and double the number of AKS calls exchanged.
Most active has been the November 5 put, which has seen more than 5,300 contracts cross the tape on open interest of just 4,902 contracts, pointing to newly opened positions. What's more, nearly two-thirds of the soon-to-expire puts traded at the ask price, suggesting they were bought.
By purchasing the puts to open, the buyers are expecting AKS to extend its retreat beneath the $5 level through Friday's close, when November-dated options expire. More specifically, the volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of the puts is $0.24, meaning the buyers will begin to profit if AKS breaches the $4.76 level (strike minus average premium paid) by the end of the week. However, even if AKS stages a rebound in the next few sessions, the most the traders can lose is the initial premium paid for the puts.
Even before today's plunge -- prompted by the company's weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings guidance -- short-term option players were pessimistic. The stock's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 0.82 ranks in the 85th percentile of its annual range, implying that near-term options speculators are more put-skewed than usual right now.
That skepticism extends beyond the options pits, too. Currently, just three out of 13 analysts consider AKS worthy of a "buy" or better rating. Meanwhile, short interest soared 8.5% during the past month, and now accounts for roughly 30.5% of the stock's total available float. In fact, at the equity's average pace of trading, it would take almost a week to buy back all of these bearish bets.
Thanks to the firm's aforementioned earnings forecast, which calls for a steeper-than-anticipated per-share loss in the current quarter, AKS has gapped more than 10% lower this morning. However, the security could find a foothold in the $4.60-$4.70 neighborhood, which has contained AKS' pullbacks on several occasions in the latter half of 2012.