Stocks quoted in this article:
With Cisco Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ:CSCO - 21.00) up around 2% in today's session, calls have emerged as the options of choice. By the numbers, roughly 51,000 calls have crossed the tape, compared to around 38,000 puts. Short-term speculators are hoping this positive price action continues in the near term, and are scooping up CSCO's February 24 call, which has seen about 5,000 contracts trade. All of these have gone off at the ask price, implied volatility was last seen higher, and volume is easily outstripping open interest, pointing to the initiation of new positions.
By buying to open these out-of-the-money calls for a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $0.03, traders will begin to profit with each step north of $24.03 (strike price plus VWAP) CSCO takes through the close on Friday, Feb. 15, when front-month options expire. This breakeven level represents a 14.4% premium to the stock's current perch.
Today's preference for calls over puts only highlights the withstanding trend in the options pits. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), traders have bought to open 232 calls for every 100 puts on CSCO during the past 20 sessions. Additionally, the equity's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 0.53 ranks in the 11th percentile of its annual range, suggesting short-term speculators are more call-heavy than usual toward the stock.
This bullishly skewed bias is understandable given the stock's steady trek up the charts in recent months, with the shares adding roughly 26% since hitting a multi-month low of $16.68 on Nov. 9. In fact, as my colleague Beth Gaston noted yesterday, not even Wednesday's acquisition-related pullback could shake these call buyers.
Should CSCO fail to topple the $24.03 mark by February expiration -- a time frame that tentatively includes the company's fiscal second-quarter earnings results -- the most today's bullish speculators stand to lose is the modest premium paid.