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Like much of the broader equities market, the shares of Arch Coal Inc (NYSE:ACI - 7.39) are treading red ink this afternoon, and it looks like a handful of option traders are gambling on an extended descent for the stock. Around midday, the equity has seen roughly 6,100 puts change hands -- nearly three times its typical intraday put volume.
More than half of the action has centered around the out-of-the-money November 6 put, which has seen about 3,400 contracts traded on open interest of fewer than 3,000 contracts, pointing to a batch of newly initiated positions. Plus, 87% of the puts have crossed at the ask price, suggesting they were bought.
By purchasing the puts to open, the buyers are betting on more short-term downside for ACI. Specifically, the volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of the puts is $0.16, meaning the buyers will profit if ACI breaches the $5.84 level (strike minus VWAP) within the next few weeks. However, even if the equity remains north of this strike, the most the traders stand to lose is capped at the initial premium paid for the puts.
From a sentiment perspective, today's appetite for bearish bets marks a change of pace in the options arena. The security's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) sits at 0.56, indicating that calls nearly double puts among options expiring within three months. Plus, this ratio registers in the 18th percentile of its annual range, implying that near-term options players have rarely been more call-heavy during the past year.
In the front-month series of options, the out-of-the-money 9 strike is home to peak call open interest, with more than 13,100 contracts outstanding. Considering short interest accounts for nearly 24% of ACI's total available float, it's possible that some of those calls were purchased as hedges for short positions.
Elsewhere on Wall Street, the analyst crowd is still somewhat wary of ACI, despite outperforming the broader S&P 500 Index (SPX) by 20 percentage points during the past 20 sessions. Currently, 12 out of 21 brokerage firms maintain "hold" or worse opinions on the equity.
Technically speaking, the shares of ACI have added more than 16% in October, ushered higher atop their 10-day moving average. However, since tagging a multi-month high earlier this week, the stock has pulled back to support at its 20-day moving average.
On the fundamental front, ACI is slated to unveil its third-quarter earnings before the opening bell tomorrow. Analysts, on average, are anticipating a quarterly loss of 16 cents per share for the firm. Should the company offer stronger-than-expected figures, an unwinding of skepticism on Wall Street could translate into a contrarian boon for ACI.