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U.S. Steel Skeptics Load Up on Pre-Earnings Puts

Options players scooped up X puts ahead of the steel producer's quarterly report

by 10/10/2012 9:42 AM
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Bears took an interest in United States Steel Corporation (NYSE:X - 21.10) on Tuesday, with roughly 45,000 put options crossing the tape -- more than doubling the commodity stock's average daily volume of 21,000 puts. The equity's November 21-strike put saw the biggest increase in open interest overnight, with 5,442 contracts added.

Taking a closer look at the volume here, 95% of those November 21 puts traded at the ask price, and implied volatility surged 4.5 percentage points by the close. In other words, it looks as though most of these options were bought to open. The volume-weighted average price (VWAP) was $1.41, which means put buyers need X to fall below breakeven at $19.59 by the time back-month options expire.

From a broader view, X is no stranger to bearish speculation. The stock's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) arrives at 1.05, which ranks above 73% of comparable readings taken over the past year -- indicating a stronger-than-usual preference for puts among near-term options traders. Plus, 25.1% of X's float is sold short, and only three analysts out of 14 consider the shares worthy of a "buy" rating.

With the stock down more than 20% in 2012, it's easy to see why X has been the target of so much negative attention. Since late April, the stock's decline has been highlighted by resistance at its 50-week moving average, currently located at $24.53.

Weekly Chart of X since January 2011 With 50-Week Moving Average

Looking ahead, X is due to report its third-quarter earnings on Tuesday, Oct. 30, with Wall Street predicting a profit of 2 cents per share. The stock popped higher after its July 31 earnings announcement, but that burst of positive momentum fizzled around the $24 level in early August.

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