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Are Herbalife Ltd. (HLF) Option Buyers Expecting More Hubbub?

HLF traders are purchasing deep out-of-the-money puts ahead of a shareholder meeting

by 4/24/2013 1:32 PM
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Ahead of tomorrow's annual shareholder meeting, bearish bets are heating up on Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF). In early afternoon action, the nutritional supplements maker has seen roughly 7,200 put options change hands, representing a 33% mark-up to its average intraday put volume. For comparison, fewer than 5,100 HLF calls have traded thus far.

Attracting notable attention has been the deep out-of-the-money May 22.50 put, which has seen close to 1,600 contracts cross the tape at a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $0.15. Nearly all of the puts have traded on the ask side, and implied volatility has edged 1.4 percentage points higher, hinting at buy-to-open activity.

By purchasing the puts to open, the buyers have one of two motives: to cash in on a significant, short-term plunge in HLF, or to protect a long stock position. In the case of the former, the traders will reap a reward if Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) breaches $22.35 (strike minus VWAP) -- a drop of nearly 40% from the stock's current perch at $37.19 -- within the next few weeks. However, should the security remain north of the strike, which sits in territory not charted in more than two years, the buyers are risking just the initial premium paid for the puts.

In the case of the latter, the buyers are shareholders first and options traders second. Their primary goal is for HLF to muscle higher, but the puts lock in an acceptable price at which to sell their shares ($22.50), should the stock take a turn for the worse in the near term.

Whatever the motive, the put buyers could be bracing for technical headwinds in the wake of Herbalife's shareholder meeting tomorrow. The company is no stranger to drama on the Street, with the KPMG insider trading scandal still fresh in investors' minds. What's more, the equity has been a target of many high-profile investors, including Carl Icahn, Dan Loeb, and David Einhorn, while notable short seller James Chanos today told CNBC that HLF is "not a viable business long-term."

Or, perhaps the buyers are gambling on an earnings miss. Herbalife is slated to unveil its first-quarter results after the close on Monday, April 29.


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