Making a Case for Starbucks Corporation (SBUX) and PepsiCo, Inc. (PEP)

Traders eye SBUX and PEP puts as the food and beverage sector outperforms

by Kirra Fedyszyn

Published on Feb 4, 2016 at 1:51 PM

While the broad market has had a rough start to 2016, one sector has emerged as a possible safe haven for bulls: food and beverage. In fact, the PowerShares Dynamic Food & Beverage ETF (PBJ) is higher year-over-year, while the S&P 500 Index (SPX) has shed more than 6% over the same period. Below, we'll outline why the sector is attractive, from a contrarian standpoint, and we'll take a look at two stocks attracting option traders: Starbucks Corporation (NASDAQ:SBUX) and PepsiCo, Inc. (NYSE:PEP).

More than half of the stocks under our "food/beverage/soaps" umbrella are trading above their 80-day moving averages, and the average year-over-year return is positive -- relatively rare right now -- according to Schaeffer's Senior Quantitative Analyst Rocky White. Still, just 56% of analyst ratings are "buys," and the average short interest ratio is 4.23 -- meaning it would take about a week to buy back all the shorted shares, at the stocks' average pace of trading.

Seattle-based coffee specialist and PBJ component SBUX is 1.5% lower at $58.63 today, but the shares have been outperforming the SPX over the past three months. While SBUX recently slipped after issuing lackluster guidance, the shares seem to have found a foothold atop their ascending 10-month moving average. A notable bounce off this trendline could help SBUX resume its quest for record highs.

From a broader standpoint, option traders have been quite bearish on SBUX lately, even as it outperformed. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), Starbucks Corporation's 10-day put/call volume ratio of 0.89 is higher than 89% of all readings taken in the past year. A mass exodus of option bears could translate into a tailwind for the coffee giant.

Meanwhile, soft drink and snack food giant PEP -- which will report earnings next Thursday -- also hit an all-time high last October, and is testing its own 10-month moving average. This trendline and its 20-month cohort have acted as a foothold for PEP for nearly three years. Today, the shares are down 0.9% at $97.84, but have outperformed the SPX during the past three months.

In the options pits, PEP puts are trading at four times their typical intraday pace, outnumbering calls more than 3-to-1. The February 97 put is in the most active spot so far today, with more than 4,200 contracts traded. But much of the action may be sell-to-open, which means the trader would profit if the stock maintains its footing above the $97 level through the close on Friday, Feb. 19, when the options expire. 

Still, a preference for puts among short-term traders is nothing new for the security. PepsiCo, Inc.'s Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 1.36 is in the 87th percentile of its annual range -- indicating that, among options expiring in the next three months, traders are far more put-skewed than usual. Should PEP report solid earnings, a backpedaling of "vanilla" option bears could be a boon for the drink maker.


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