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Options players took an optimistic approach with Alpha Natural Resources, Inc. (NYSE:ANR - 7.13) on Wednesday, as call volume on the coal stock accelerated to 1.83 times the usual level. During the course of the session, approximately 32,000 calls traded on ANR, easily outstripping the 8,784 puts that changed hands. On an average day, the commodity concern sees about 18,000 calls and 9,900 puts cross the tape.
The day's most active strike was ANR's December 8 call, where 7,120 contracts were exchanged. A healthy majority of these calls traded near the ask price, and open interest at this strike surged overnight by 3,062 contracts. As a result, it's safe to assume that new calls were bought to open at the December 8 strike on Wednesday.
This call-heavy activity was part of a growing trend for ANR. During the past 10 trading days, speculators have bought to open 4.45 calls for every put, according to data from the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX). This ratio ranks higher than 73% of other such readings taken over the past year, as traders have picked up calls over puts at a faster pace only 27% of the time.
ANR has been a serious laggard on the charts in 2012, having shed about 66% of its value year-to-date. A recent rally attempt was turned back by the stock's descending 32-week moving average, along with the psychologically significant $10 level.
In light of this dismal price action, it's possible that traders are buying calls to hedge their shorted shares, rather than to bet bullishly on ANR. Despite a 13.8% decline over the past two reporting periods, short interest still accounts 18.5% of the equity's float. By purchasing near-the-money calls, short sellers can effectively lock in a maximum buyback price on their shorted shares.