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Put Sellers Flock to Fifth Third Bancorp

FITB will step up to the earnings plate on Friday

by 1/17/2012 10:28 AM
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Along with a slew of its financial-sector peers, Fifth Third Bancorp (FITB - 14.03) will step up to the earnings plate this week. Specifically, the company is expected to unveil its fourth-quarter figures before the opening bell on Friday. Ahead of the event, it looks like a few options speculators are rolling the dice on long-term support for the equity.

During the course of Friday's session, FITB saw about 8,300 puts change hands -- around five times the stock's average daily put volume. A healthy portion of the action centered on the out-of-the-money August 13 put, which saw open interest swell by 1,250 contracts over the long holiday weekend. However, the bulk of the puts traded at the bid price, suggesting they were sold.

By writing the puts to open, the sellers are expecting FITB to remain north of the $13 level through August expiration. In this best-case scenario, the puts will expire worthless, and the traders can pocket the initial premium received from the sale -- which represents the maximum potential reward on the play.

Elsewhere on the Street, most of the brokerage bunch appears to be in FITB's bullish corner. According to Zacks, the equity has earned 13 "strong buys" and two "buy" ratings, compared to eight lukewarm "holds" and just one "sell" or worse suggestion. Today, however, Baird downgraded the security to "neutral" from "outperform." Should FITB fail to live up to analysts' earnings expectations, another wave of bearish brokerage notes could exacerbate any post-earnings selling pressure.

At last check, FITB has bucked the broad-market trend higher, giving up 0.4% to hover just shy of the $14 level.


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