Supplement Sellers Sink Ahead of PBS Documentary

Herbalife Ltd. (HLF), GNC Holdings Inc (GNC), and Vitamin Shoppe Inc (VSI) are lower ahead of a PBS documentary

Jan 19, 2016 at 3:09 PM
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Ahead of tonight's FRONTLINE documentary on PBS, which takes a swipe at dietary supplement sellers, the shares of Herbalife Ltd. (NYSE:HLF) and GNC Holdings Inc (NYSE:GNC) are swimming in red ink. Should the securities extend today's retreat -- and possibly suffer a Lumber Liquidators Holdings Inc (NYSE:LL) effect -- a handful of recent options buyers could be in trouble. Vitamin Shoppe Inc (NYSE:VSI) options traders, meanwhile, could make a pretty penny.

HLF is down 4.1% at $46.52, bringing its year-to-date loss to 13.2%. The stock is on pace for its lowest close since May, and could end the month south of its 50-month trendline for the first time since July.

On the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), the security sports a 10-day call/put volume ratio of 1.45. This reading registers in the 82nd percentile of its annual range, suggesting option buyers have picked up HLF calls over puts at a much faster-than-usual pace during the past two weeks. What's more, the security's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) is docked at an annual low of 0.67, implying that near-term traders haven't been more call-biased during the past year.

However, it's worth noting that more than one-third of Herbalife Ltd.'s (NYSE:HLF) float is dedicated to short interest, despite modestly declining over the past two reporting periods. Some of the aforementioned call buying -- particularly at out-of-the-money strikes -- could be attributable to short sellers looking for a hedge.

GNC is 5.4% lower at $23.42 -- within a chip-shot of a new annual low of $22.64, tagged in mid-November. The stock has lost almost half its value in the past nine months, yet option traders have bought to open nearly eight GNC calls for every put during the past two weeks on the ISE, CBOE, and PHLX. In fact, the resulting 10-day call/put volume ratio of 7.94 stands higher than 71% of all other readings from the past year.

What's more, near-term options traders are paying a pretty penny to gamble on GNC Holdings Inc (NYSE:GNC). The equity's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) is perched at an annual high of 97%. Plus, the stock's 30-day at-the-money implied volatility just hit a 52-week high of 96.8%.

Today, though, GNC speculators are singing a more bearish tune. Intraday put volume is running at 20 times the normal pace, and has more than doubled call volume so far. It looks like some traders are either rolling down their long February 25 puts to the February 20 strike, or they're opening a bear put spread

VSI is down 5.2% at $26.72 -- after earlier hitting a fresh five-year low of $26.25. On the ISE, CBOE, and PHLX, VSI puts have been popular, with traders buying to open 10.15 puts for every call during the past 10 weeks. Likewise, the stock's SOIR sits at an annual high of 1.70, pointing to a much bigger-than-usual put bias among near-term traders.

It's more of the same today. VSI puts are trading at 57 times the average intraday rate, and have outnumbered calls by a margin of more than 16-to-1. It appears some speculators are betting on even lower lows for Vitamin Shoppe Inc (NYSE:VSI) in the near term, buying to open the February 25 put -- the most active so far today.


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