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Microsoft Option Traders Are Optimistic Ahead of Earnings

MSFT bulls are scooping up short-term call options

by 1/24/2013 12:00 PM
Stocks quoted in this article:

Option traders are waxing optimistic on Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT - 28.01) this morning, with speculators rolling the dice on a post-earnings pop for the blue chip. Already today, MSFT has seen roughly 122,000 calls change hands -- well over three times its average intraday call volume, and more than double the number of MSFT puts exchanged.

Garnering the most attention have been the near-the-money February 28 call and weekly 1/25 28-strike call, which have seen around 14,800 and 10,600 contracts traded, respectively. The bulk of the calls have crossed at the ask price, and implied volatility is trending higher at both strikes, hinting at newly bought bullish bets.

By purchasing the calls to open, the buyers expect MSFT to muscle notably north of $28 within the options' respective lifetimes. More specifically, the February-dated calls crossed at a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $0.55, meaning the buyers will make money if MSFT conquers the $28.55 level (strike plus VWAP) by the closing bell on Friday, Feb. 15. Meanwhile, the VWAP of the soon-to-expire weekly calls is $0.40, indicating a breakeven level of $28.40 -- though the buyers of these calls have fewer than two sessions before the options expire.

Leading up to tonight's earnings release, MSFT calls have grown increasingly popular. On the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), traders have bought to open almost three calls for every put during the past two weeks. In fact, the security's 10-day call/put volume ratio of 2.81 ranks in the 75th percentile of its annual range, suggesting speculators are scooping up calls over puts at a much faster-than-usual pace.

As a result, the equity's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) has plummeted to 0.55, indicating that calls nearly double puts among options with a shelf-life of three months or less. Even more telling, this ratio stands lower than all other readings of the past year, implying that near-term options players haven't been more call-skewed at any other time during the past 12 months.

Echoing that optimism, MSFT boasts 15 "strong buys" and three "buy" endorsements from analysts, compared to 12 lukewarm "holds" and not a single "sell" suggestion. Likewise, the consensus 12-month price target on the stock is $33.81 -- representing a premium of 22.5% to MSFT's closing price of $27.61 on Wednesday, and in territory the stock hasn't charted in five years.

Technically speaking, MSFT has lagged the broader S&P 500 Index (SPX) by nearly 9 percentage points during the past three months, with the most recent leg of its downtrend highlighted by resistance at its 10-week and 20-week moving averages.

In its last trip to the earnings confessional, the company fell short of analysts' bottom-line earnings estimates. For its fiscal second quarter, analysts are expecting a per-share profit of 75 cents. Should MSFT once again disappoint the Street, an unwinding of optimism in the options pits, or a wave of negative analyst notes, could exacerbate the equity's struggles of late.


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