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Pre-Earnings Bears Target Applied Materials

AMAT's front-month put volume balloons ahead of earnings

by 11/13/2012 2:21 PM
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Applied Materials, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMAT 10.53) has seen plenty of bullish trading activity lately, according to data pulled from the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX). During the past two weeks, traders have bought to open nearly three calls for every put, as evidenced by the stock's 10-day call/put volume ratio of 2.74. Even more telling, this ratio is docked in the 64th annual percentile, reflecting a stronger-than-usual preference for calls over puts.

Similarly, the Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) for AMAT checks in at 0.42, confirming calls more than double puts among options set to expire in three months or less. This ratio registers in the 24th percentile of its annual range, indicating short-term options players have been more call-heavy toward the equity less than one-fourth of the time during the last 52 weeks.

However, today's options activity is bucking AMAT's bullish trend. Nearly 6,400 puts have changed hands so far, which is almost five times the equity's expected intraday put volume. By contrast, fewer than 1,700 calls have been exchanged.

Leading the pack is the November 10 strike, where roughly 5,500 puts have been traded -- all of them at the ask price, suggesting they were bought. These near-the-money contracts crossed at a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $0.06. Since today's volume exceeds current open interest levels -- coupled with the fact that implied volatility was last seen 8.8 percentage points higher -- it can be assumed that new bearish bets are being initiated here. In order for traders to realize a profit from these bought-to-open puts, the stock must fall below $9.94 (strike price less the VWAP) by front-month expiration this Friday.

Meanwhile, most of the analysts covering the semiconductor stock maintain a cautious stance toward AMAT. Only six have deemed the equity worthy of a "buy" or better rating, versus eight "holds" and two "sell" or worse recommendations.

Technically speaking, AMAT has shed more than 15% on a year-over-year basis, and has lagged the broader S&P 500 Index (SPX) by about nine percentage points during the past three months. What's more, the stock continues to trade below its 80-week moving average, which has acted as a ceiling since May 2011.

It should also be noted that AMAT is due to report quarterly earnings after Thursday's close -- just one day before November expiration -- and has topped analysts' bottom-line estimates in each of the past four quarters. However, in mid-August the company warned of a slowdown in chip-production gear spending, and issued weaker-than-expected fiscal fourth-quarter guidance. Today's put players may be taking this warning to heart, counting on a post-earnings drop to fuel their bearish near-term bets.


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