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Celgene Corporation (NASDAQ:CELG - 98.75) is basking in the bullish limelight today, courtesy of an upgrade to "buy" from "neutral" at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, and a price-target hike to $117 at Guggenheim. In fact, these upbeat analyst adjustments pushed the stock high enough to tag a new record high of $98.97 earlier in the session. Not surprisingly, optimistic traders are swooping down upon the stock, with roughly 15,000 calls crossing the tape so far -- almost triple the security's expected intraday volume.
Garnering notable attention has been the January 2013 100-strike call, which has seen nearly 1,900 contracts exchanged at a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $0.72. The majority of these calls traded at the ask price, pointing to buyer-driven activity. Because today's volume exceeds current open interest levels -- coupled with the fact that implied volatility was last seen 2.7 percentage points higher -- it's likely that new bullish bets are being placed here. In order for traders to realize a profit on their bought-to-open calls, the shares must surmount the $100.72 level (strike price plus the VWAP) by Friday's closing bell, which is when front-month options expire.
Also of note, it looks as though one speculator sold to close a 1,500-contract block of calls at the in-the-money February 90 strike for $9.69 per contract, and then used the premium received to establish a bull call spread on CELG. Specifically, he purchased a lot of 1,500 calls at the February 97.50 strike for $4.31 apiece, while simultaneously selling an equal number of calls at the February 105 strike for $1.33 each -- resulting in a net debit of $2.98, which was covered by the sale of the existing February 90 calls. In this strategy, the trader is expecting the stock to close north of $100.48 (bought strike plus the net debit) by February expiration. His maximum profit (which is achieved if the stock is trading at or above the 105 strike at expiration) is limited to $4.52, or the difference between the strike prices, less the net debit. Meanwhile, his potential loss is capped at the net debit paid if CELG is south of $97.50 when the options expire.
CELG has been on a technical tear lately, boasting a year-to-date climb of nearly 26%, and outperforming the broader S&P 500 Index (SPX) by close to 24 percentage points during the past three months. Should the biotech firm keep up its current upward momentum, today's call buyers (and spread strategist) could find themselves scoring a win on their bullish, near-term positions.