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Put volume ramped up on Applied Materials, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMAT - 10.88) in Tuesday's session, with 6,772 of these bearishly oriented options crossing the tape. By contrast, the semiconductor stock typically sees fewer than 3,200 puts change hands on an average day. Meanwhile, only 3,603 calls were traded on AMAT, representing a slim 63% of the norm.
The day's most active option was AMAT's January 2013 11-strike put, where 3,140 contracts were exchanged. About 85% of these puts traded closer to the ask price, suggesting they were purchased, and open interest at this strike rose overnight by 1,748 contracts. Based on this evidence, it's safe to assume that some of the day's volume consisted of freshly purchased bearish bets.
Those January 11 puts traded at a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $0.47, which means traders will start to accrue profits on a move below breakeven at $10.53. Shares of AMAT settled at $10.88 on Tuesday, so these speculators are banking on a decline of more than 3.2% over the next five-plus weeks until expiration.
Broadening our scope, AMAT puts have been in favor for some time now. During the past 10 days, options players on the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) have bought to open 1.39 puts for every call on the tech stock. This ratio ranks higher than 87% of other such readings taken over the past year, suggesting that speculators have shown a greater preference for puts over calls just 13% of the time.
AMAT has managed a slim year-to-date gain of just 1.5%, but the round-number $10 level has so far proven to be a reliable backstop. Despite several tests of this level in the intervening years, the stock hasn't finished a week in single-digit territory since March 2009.