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Apache Corporation (APA) Option Traders Brace for a Bumpy Ride

APA bears are buying short-term put options

by 2/15/2013 11:03 AM
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Commodities concern Apache Corporation (NYSE:APA - 77.85) is bucking the broad-market trend higher this morning, attracting a crop of fresh option bears. Within the first 90 minutes of trading, APA has seen roughly 21,000 puts cross the tape -- about 10 times its average intraday volume, and more than twice the number of APA calls exchanged.

Jumping right in, speculators are opening new positions at the weekly 2/22 75-strike put and the March 77.50 put, which have seen around 2,000 and 3,700 contracts traded, respectively. Volume has exceeded open interest at both strikes, and the majority of the puts have changed hands at the ask price, hinting at buy-to-open volume.

Digging even deeper, the weekly puts have crossed at a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $0.19, meaning the buyers will make money if APA sinks beneath the $74.81 level (strike minus VWAP) by the close next Friday, when the options expire. Meanwhile, the VWAP of the soon-to-be front-month puts is $1.54, indicating a breakeven level of $75.96 for the buyers. However, should the puts remain out of the money through their respective lifetimes, the buyers' maximum risk is the initial premium paid for the contracts.

From a broader sentiment standpoint, today's preference for puts runs counter to the recent trend on the major options exchanges. In fact, during the past two weeks, speculators have bought to open almost three APA calls for every put on the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX). What's more, the equity's 10-day call/put volume ratio of 2.97 ranks in the 76th percentile of its annual range, suggesting traders have initiated bullish bets over bearish at a faster-than-usual clip.

As a result, the stock's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) sits at 0.52, indicating that calls nearly double puts among options with a shelf-life of three months or less. Compared to similar readings of the past year, this SOIR ranks in the 7th percentile, suggesting near-term traders have rarely been more call-biased.

However, the recent appetite for calls seems somewhat overdone, juxtaposed with APA's performance on the charts. The stock has been stair-stepping lower for the past couple of years, with most rally attempts halted by its 50-week moving average. More recently, the security is on pace for a weekly drop of more than 8%, after the firm reported weaker-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings, and despite news that the company successfully contained a natural gas blowout at an exploratory well in the Gulf of Mexico.

Weekly Chart of APA since April 2011 With 50-Week Moving Average


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