Call Writers Nail Avis Budget Group Inc. (CAR) Earnings Debacle

A group of option traders placed well-timed bets ahead of Avis Budget Group Inc. (NASDAQ:CAR) earnings

by Josh Selway

Published on Feb 24, 2016 at 11:34 AM
Updated on Feb 24, 2016 at 11:35 AM

Car rental stock Avis Budget Group Inc. (NASDAQ:CAR) is selling off after the firm swung to a loss in the fourth quarter. The company's full-year earnings outlook also came in below analysts' forecast. CAR was last seen down 26.4% at $22.06, earlier hitting a roughly three-year low of $21.95, and putting the stock near the bottom of the Nasdaq. While shareholders are licking their wounds, one group of option traders appears to have positioned itself well ahead of CAR's quarterly announcement. 

On Tuesday, CAR call options traded at six times the average single-day clip. However, this had little to do with bullish speculators. Specifically, the stock's most popular option was the March 32 call, where nearly 2,300 contracts traded -- including a sweep of 2,000. For comparison, the next closest strike saw only 424 contracts cross. Data suggests most of these front-month calls were sold to open, meaning traders are likely betting against CAR in the short term. If the stock holds below $32 through options expiration on Friday, March 18, the call writers will pocket the initial premium collected from the trade. 

Since these traders sold premium near the company's earnings release, this could wind up being a nice payday. CAR's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) checks in at 65%, putting it higher than almost four-fifths of readings from the past year. In other words, premium on the stock's near-term options is rather elevated, from a volatility perspective. 

Looking back, CAR speculators have preferred calls over puts, but unlike the aforementioned sellers, they've generally taken a bullish approach. Specifically, call buying has outpaced put buying over the past two weeks at the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), according to the stock's 10-day call/put volume ratio of 1.11. 

As for today, option volume is surging again, running at seven times the typical intraday amount. There's been heavy interest in CAR's March 25 put, and if traders are buying it to open, they're expecting additional losses -- and potential new lows -- from the shares over the next few weeks. 

Taking a look outside the options pits, short interest remains elevated on CAR, even though it fell by over 14% during the last two reporting periods. The stock's short-interest ratio currently stands at 5.30, meaning it'd take bears over a week to repurchase their shares, going by average daily volumes. Today, the stock is short-sale restricted. 

A quick glimpse at the charts, and this pessimism starts to make sense. At this time last year, shares of Avis Budget Group Inc. (NASDAQ:CAR) were trading at over $60, meaning they've dropped nearly two-thirds of their value in the past 12 months.

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