Did Fred's, Inc. (FRED) Shorts Hedge In the Nick of Time?

Call buying has picked up the pace on heavily shorted retail stock Fred's, Inc. (NASDAQ:FRED)

Dec 27, 2016 at 12:21 PM
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Shares of Fred's, Inc. (NASDAQ:FRED) are trading down 1% at $20.00. The discount retailer said it adopted a "poison pill" -- or shareholder rights plan -- after Alden Global Capital LLC unveiled a nearly 25% majority stake in the company. All of this follows last Tuesday's massive move by FRED stock, on news of the retailer's big acquisition from Rite Aid Corporation (NYSE:RAD). With FRED now up 100% month-to-date, shareholders may not be the only ones protecting themselves. In fact, it looks like short sellers may have been scooping up long calls in recent weeks, guarding their bearish bets against any upside risk for the retail stock.

Drilling down, options traders at the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) have bought to open 3,224 FRED calls in the past two weeks, compared to 1,597 puts. What's more, call open interest is docked at a 52-week peak, with 13,048 contracts outstanding.

FRED's January 2017 12.50-strike call has seen the biggest rise in open interest over the past 10 trading sessions, with 2,681 contracts added. Plus, this now in-the-money (ITM) strike is home to the equity's top open interest position, with 6,129 contracts outstanding. According to Trade-Alert, the majority of these positions were bought to open on Dec. 9, when the stock was trading near $10.85.

Considering these calls were out of the money when they were purchased, it's possible short sellers picked up a timely hedge. Although short interest dropped 7.5% in the most recent reporting period, it still accounts for a healthy 10% of FRED's available float -- or 12.4 times the stock's average daily pace of trading.

Regardless, those who purchased the January 2017 12.50-strike calls on Dec. 9 are now staring at a healthy profit, based on the closing ask price of $0.53. Specifically, these front-month deep ITM Fred's, Inc. (NASDAQ:FRED) calls are now being bid at $7.10 apiece.

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