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U.S. Steel Skeptics Won't Back Down

Put buyers continue to target X as resistance looms large

by 10/19/2012 11:43 AM
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Puts are the options of choice on United States Steel Corporation (NYSE:X - 22.35), according to volume data from the major exchanges. During the past 10 sessions, speculators on the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) have bought to open 1.11 puts for every call on the steel stock. This ratio arrives in the 87th percentile of its annual range, as traders have purchased puts over calls on X at a faster pace just 13% of the time during the last year.

In fact, on Thursday alone, options players on the ISE, CBOE, and PHLX, bought to open 10,563 puts and 1,712 calls on X, netting the shares a single-day put/call volume ratio of 6.17. Upon closer inspection, most of the day's activity took place at the November 24 put, which is soon to assume front-month status.

Specifically, 12,993 puts traded at this strike, with 63% crossing at the ask price -- confirming a bias toward buyer-driven volume. The November 24 put added 9,953 contracts to open interest overnight, and now carries a total of 10,103 contracts in residence. Based on the option's volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $1.94, Thursday's put buyers will begin to profit if X falls below breakeven at $22.06 (strike price less net debit) by the time November expiration rolls around.

It's hard to blame speculators for adopting such a bearish attitude toward X, as the commodity concern has shed nearly 14% of its value so far this year. Currently, the shares are pinned just below long-term resistance at their 10-month moving average.

Monthly Chart of X since February 2010 With 10-Month Moving Average

Looking ahead, X is due to report its third-quarter earnings on Tuesday, Oct. 30. Analysts are looking for a profit of 1 penny per share, down sharply from last year's earnings of 72 cents per share. X has surpassed Wall Street's bottom-line expectations in three of its last four quarterly reports.


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