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As Aetna Inc. (NYSE:AET - 44.00) prepares to report quarterly earnings this Thursday, bullish traders are coming out of the woodwork today. Roughly 25,000 calls have traded so far, which is more than seven times the norm. By comparison, just over 1,300 puts have changed hands.
Most popular has been the out-of-the-money November 45 strike, where close to 16,500 calls have been exchanged at a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $1.16. The majority of these contracts crossed at the ask price, signaling buyer-driven activity. Since this option currently holds open interest of just 2,200 calls -- and with implied volatility last seen more than three percentage points higher -- it's very likely that new positions are being established here. In order for traders to secure a profit on these bullish bets, the stock must trek north of $46.16 (strike price plus average premium paid) by Nov. 16, which is when back-month options expire.
According to data pulled from the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), this preference for buying AET calls over puts is par for the course. In fact, the equity's 50-day call/put volume ratio is docked at 3.58, confirming calls bought to open have more than tripled puts during the past few months. This ratio ranks higher than 69% of other such readings collected over the past year, which means traders have been scooping up calls over puts at an accelerated pace.
Likewise, Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) for AET checks in at 0.58, meaning calls almost double puts among the front three-months' series of options. This ratio arrives in the 34th percentile of its annual range, reflecting a healthier-than-usual appetite for calls versus their bearish counterparts.
It should be noted, however, that short interest on the healthcare benefits company skyrocketed by more than 115% during the past month, and now accounts for nearly 4% of AET's available float. This could mean that some of the recent call volume is the result of hedging activity by short sellers.
Meanwhile, although the stock has climbed more than 14% during the past year -- and has bested the broader S&P 500 Index (SPX) by about 15 percentage points during the last three months -- there is still a fair amount of skepticism toward AET among the brokerage bunch. The equity sports 10 "strong buy" ratings, compared to eight middling "holds" and zero "sell" recommendations. This leaves the door open for future upgrades, which could boost the stock higher.
As alluded to earlier, AET is scheduled to report third-quarter earnings on Oct. 25, and has topped consensus bottom-line estimates in just two of the past four quarters. Analysts are currently forecasting a profit of $1.34 per share. Should the company manage to pull off higher-than-expected earnings results this week, the stock could rally high enough to reward today's November bulls.