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Like most of its fellow blue chips, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ - 42.61) extended its recent pullback on Thursday. The shares are now testing their foothold in the $42.50 neighborhood, which contained VZ's retreat in mid-to-late August. Against this backdrop, put players descended on the security, though not all of the activity was of the bearish variety.
By the time the dust settled, VZ had seen roughly 47,000 puts change hands -- more than double its average single-session put volume. Most active was the out-of-the-money January 2014 40-strike put, which saw more than 10,800 contracts traded. A healthy portion of the volume transpired on the ask side of the tape, and put open interest at the LEAPS strike skyrocketed overnight, pointing to buy-to-open activity.
By purchasing the long-term puts to open, the buyers are expecting VZ to continue its recent slide over the next year-plus. Specifically, the volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of the puts was $3.65, meaning the buyers will reap a reward if VZ breaches the $36.35 level (strike minus average premium paid) -- in territory not charted in nearly a year -- by January 2014 options expiration. However, even if VZ bounces off familiar support in the $42.50 region, the most the buyers can possibly lose is the initial premium paid for the puts.
As alluded to earlier, not all of the put activity was pessimistic in nature. More than 9,200 contracts changed hands at the November 39 put -- all at the bid price, suggesting they were sold. Plus, put open interest at the front-month strike swelled overnight, underscoring our suspicions of sell-to-open volume. By writing the puts to open, the sellers are expecting VZ to remain north of $39 through the next week. In this best-case scenario, the puts will expire worthless, allowing the traders to pocket the initial net credit.
In light of the growing affinity for VZ puts -- especially of the short-term kind -- the stock's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) stands at 2.15, indicating that puts more than double calls among options expiring within three months. What's more, this ratio registers in the 84th percentile of its annual range, suggesting near-term options traders have rarely been more put-biased during the past year.