Stocks quoted in this article:
Gun maker Smith & Wesson Holding Corporation (NASDAQ:SWHC - 9.13) has muscled 19% higher since mid-December, outperforming the broader S&P 500 Index (SPX) by almost 8 percentage points during the past month. Nevertheless, the options crowd is getting spooked, as evidenced by the growing affinity for bearish bets.
During the course of Monday's session, SWHC saw roughly 5,200 puts cross the tape -- almost twice its average daily volume. For comparison, just over 2,500 SWHC calls changed hands. Nearly all of the volume transpired at the February 9 put, which saw more than 4,300 contracts trade at a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $0.19. Most of the puts crossed on the ask side, and open interest increased overnight, hinting at buy-to-open activity.
By purchasing the puts to open, the buyers expect SWHC to backpedal beneath the $9 level by the end of the week, when front-month options expire. More specifically, the buyers will make money if SWHC breaches the $8.81 level (strike minus premium paid) by Friday's closing bell. However, even if SWHC maintains it perch atop the $9 level, the most the buyers can lose is the initial premium paid for the puts.
Yesterday's bearish bias was nothing new for the stock, though. On the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), the security's 10-day put/call volume ratio of 0.18 stands higher than 81% of all other readings of the past year. Or, in simpler terms, option buyers have picked up SWHC puts over calls at a faster-than-usual pace during the past two weeks.
In the same skeptical vein, the equity's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 0.68 stands just 8 percentage points shy of a 52-week peak. In other words, near-term options players have rarely been more put-heavy during the past year.
Elsewhere on Wall Street, short interest grew by 34.5% during the past month, and now accounts for 27.9% of SWHC's total available float. At the stock's average daily trading volume, it would take about four sessions to repurchase all of these pessimistic positions. Meanwhile, just one out of five analysts considers SWHC worthy of a "buy" or better rating.
Should fear of stricter gun legislation -- something President Obama is expected to address tonight -- accelerate sales, an extended uptrend for SWHC could spook the lingering skeptics. A reversal in sentiment among option players, a short-squeeze situation, or a round of upbeat analyst attention could add fuel to the equity's fire.