How to Use Options as Sentiment Indicators

How you can use options as sentiment indicators

by Mark Fightmaster

    Published on Sep 17, 2015 at 3:35 PM

    When you're trying to measure sentiment toward a particular stock or sector, options activity can offer valuable clues. Generally speaking, call-buying activity is viewed as bullish, while put buying is considered bearish in nature. In order to learn how options players are positioning themselves, it's important to use the right tools. Here are a few key indicators that can offer guidance as you attempt to uncover contrarian trading opportunities.

    The Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR)

    Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) measures put open interest against call open interest among options set to expire within three months, providing insight into the general mood among speculative investors. Readings above 1.0 suggest that puts are more prevalent than calls among near-term options. Conversely, readings below 1.0 indicate that calls are more numerous.

    The SOIR is placed in historical context with an annual percentile rank. A rank of 0% reveals that calls are currently outnumbering puts by the greatest margin within the past 52 weeks. Conversely, a 100% ranking tells us that short-term traders are favoring puts over calls more than at any other time during the past year.

    Open interest configurations

    When analyzing a stock's open interest configuration, you're simply looking to see where traders have placed their bets. Is there huge out-of-the-money put open interest? This could indicate strong bearish sentiment from speculators. Likewise, a relative scarcity of out-of-the-money calls could point to very low expectations for the stock to rise.

    It's also worthwhile to look for major accumulations of near-the-money call or put open interest, because stocks can get "pinned" to heavily populated strikes as expiration approaches. If there's a possibility that heavy open interest could keep the stock stagnant during the short term, that should inform your technical forecast for a potential trade candidate.

    Similar to the "pin" effect, heavy accumulations of out-of-the-money puts can provide support when options expiration is looming. As market makers gradually unwind the hedges related to this open interest, it can provide a mild tailwind for the security. Alternatively, major overhead call open interest can act as resistance.

    ISE Sentiment Index

    The ISE Sentiment Index (ISEE) is one way to drill down specifically on option-buying activity. Each day, the International Securities Exchange (ISE) calculates this figure by comparing the number of calls bought to open on its exchange against the number of puts bought to open. The ISEE further refines this data by excluding volume created by firms and market makers, so the resulting number is based solely on buy-to-open customer transactions. When the ISEE is over 100, long call purchases have outnumbered their put counterparts -- an indication of bullish sentiment among options players. Readings below 100 point to a bias toward long puts, and a possible rise in bearishness.

    Since ISEE is a blanket measurement of all call and put activity on the exchange, it's best used to gauge sentiment toward the stock market as a whole. To analyze historical trends, the indicator can be plotted alongside its 10-day, 20-day, and 50-day moving averages on the ISE website.

    A Final Note

    It's important to remember that none of these indicators, taken out of context, offers a complete picture of option activity. Open interest configurations can be revealing, but don't differentiate contracts that were bought to open from those that were sold to open. What's more, calls and puts can be bought to open in order to hedge existing stock positions. Due to these considerations, it's important to use all of these tools as part of a broader analysis of the stock's sentiment backdrop, rather than considering these data points in isolation.

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