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On the eve of its fourth-quarter earnings report, Intel Corporation (NYSE:INTC - 22.10) has been hit with a barrage of bullish options activity today. Approximately 107,000 calls have changed hands so far, which is more than double the norm. By comparison, roughly 52,000 puts have been traded. Leading the pack is the January 2013 22.50-strike call, where north of 29,600 contracts have crossed at a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $0.26.
Digging deeper into the data, it looks as though the majority of these near-the-money calls were exchanged at the ask price, suggesting they were purchased. Meanwhile, implied volatility was last seen 7.1 percentage points higher, implying the initiation of new positions. If these calls were, in fact, bought to open, traders are betting on INTC to surmount the breakeven rail of $22.76 (strike price plus the VWAP) by front-month expiration, which occurs at the close this Friday.
This campaign for calls over puts is a stark contrast to the security's recent trend. Data from the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) shows a 10-day put/call volume ratio of 1.18, confirming traders have bought to open 118 puts for every 100 calls during the last two weeks. This ratio ranks higher than 87% of other such readings taken within the past year, meaning speculators have been picking up bearish options over bullish at an accelerated clip.
Technically speaking, the semiconductor issue has tacked on more than 7% so far this year, and has recovered about 15% since tagging an annual low of $19.23 on Nov. 21. As previously noted, INTC is on deck to report quarterly earnings tomorrow, and has bested consensus bottom-line estimates in each of the past four quarters. Analysts, on average, are expecting a fourth-quarter profit of 45 cents per share. Should the stock pull off another earnings win, today's bulls could end up collecting a profit on their call purchases by week's end.