Verizon Communications Inc., Merck & Co., Inc. Get Stuck on the Sidelines

Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) and Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) are sitting out the day's blue-chip rally

by Karee Venema

Published on Aug 25, 2015 at 3:19 PM
Updated on Aug 25, 2015 at 3:24 PM

So far this week, the Dow has tracked a 1,089-point trading range. While all of yesterday's activity occurred to the downside -- sending all 30 components lower -- today's action is to the north. However, not everyone is participating in the upside, with telecom concern Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE:VZ) and pharmaceutical firm Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK) in the red at last check.

VZ was down 1% earlier, but has since pared these losses to 0.4% to trade at $44.58. Longer term, the stock has shed nearly 14% since hitting an annual high of $51.73 in mid-November, and tagged a three-year low of $38.06 on Monday.

In the options pits, overall volume has jumped to two times the average intraday pace -- with both calls and puts seeing accelerated activity. On the call side, one speculator bought to open a block of weekly 9/4 46-strike calls to bet on an end-of-week bounce. Meanwhile, put players are buying to open VZ's September 42 strike, rolling the dice on extended losses through the close on Friday, Sept. 18 -- when front-month options expire.

More broadly speaking, option bulls have been active in recent weeks. Verizon Communications Inc.'s 10-day International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) call/put volume ratio of 2.55 ranks in the 61st percentile of its annual range. Simply stated, calls have been bought to open over puts at a faster-than-usual clip.

Amid yesterday's steep sell-off, MRK fell to a new annual low of $45.69, before settling the session down 3.2%. Although the stock initially peaked above breakeven at the open, it was last seen 2% lower at $52.94. Year-to-date, shares of MRK are now staring at a 6.8% deficit.

Amid today's downside, put volume has popped to 1.6 times what's typically seen at this point in the day. Drilling down, it appears one put player is rolling her bearish bet down to the October 47.50 strike from the October 52.50 strike. Elsewhere, another trader initiated a block of weekly 8/28 52.50-strike puts, but it's unclear as to whether the lot was bought or sold.

From a wider sentiment perspective, today's penchant for puts just echoes the withstanding trend seen in Merck & Co., Inc.'s options pits. For starters, the stock's 50-day ISE/CBOE/PHLX put/call volume ratio of 0.54 sits above 73% of all similar readings taken in the past year. Plus, MRK's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 0.79 rests in the 64th annual percentile, meaning short-term speculators are more put-heavy than usual.

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