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AT&T Inc. (T) Speculators Scoop Up Budget-Friendly Options

AT&T Inc. upped its full-year sales outlook, but not everyone is optimistic

by 6/3/2014 11:20 AM
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Demand is on the rise for short-term options on AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T), as the stock's 30-day at-the-money (ATM) implied volatility (IV) is 2.8% higher at 12.5%. Still, these traders are gambling on the blue chip at a relative discount, as the equity's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) of 12% sits just 2 percentage points from an annual low. In other words, T's short-term options are attractively priced right now, from a volatility standpoint.

That's good news for today's weekly call buyers. Specifically, the 6/6 35.50-strike call has garnered notable attention thus far, with more than 3,000 contracts exchanged. Eighty-six percent of the calls crossed on the ask side, and implied volatility at the strike has popped 3.7 percentage points, pointing to buy-to-open activity.

The contracts traded at a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $0.13, meaning the buyers will reap a reward if T is docked atop $35.63 (strike plus VWAP) at Friday's close, when the options expire. In fact, gains are theoretically unlimited north of breakeven, while risk is capped at the initial premium paid for the calls, should T -- last seen at $35.36 -- remain south of the strike through week's end.

However, echoing the stock's current sentiment backdrop, the most active strike thus far is a put. Specifically, the July 35 put has seen more than 4,200 contracts change hands, mostly at the ask price, and IV edged higher at several mid-sized block trades -- once again hinting at newly bought positions.

By purchasing the puts at a VWAP of $0.69, the buyers will profit if T settles beneath $34.31 (strike minus VWAP) at the close on Friday, July 18, when back-month options expire. The buyers' gains will increase the closer T moves to zero, while risk is limited to the premium paid at initiation, should T stay atop $35 through options expiration.

As alluded to earlier, T puts are already the contracts of choice among short-term options players. The stock's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 1.30 stands higher than 86% of all other readings from the past year, pointing to a bigger-than-usual put bias among options expiring within three months.

In the same vein, the security's 10-day put/call volume ratio on the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) rests at 1.96, indicating that traders have bought to open nearly two T puts for every call during the past two weeks. Even more telling, this ratio is just 10 percentage points from a 52-week high, hinting at a healthier-than-usual appetite for bearish bets of late.

Elsewhere on Wall Street, the brokerage bunch is also docked in the bearish camp, as 14 out of 23 analysts maintain "hold" or worse opinions. Plus, short interest represents nearly eight sessions' worth of pent-up buying demand, at the equity's average pace of trading -- underscoring the widespread pessimism levied against T.

On the charts, T has outperformed the broader S&P 500 Index (SPX) during the past three months, and since touching an annual high of $36.86 in early May, has taken a breather atop its year-to-date breakeven level. Off the charts, AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) just upped its full-year sales forecast for the second time, citing strength in its wireless unit. Should the telecom titan continue to thrive, a mass exodus of option bears, a round of upgrades, and/or a short-squeeze situation could propel T to even higher highs.

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