Call Buying Explodes on Virgin America Inc (VA) Buyout Buzz

Virgin America Inc (NASDAQ:VA) is surging on reports it may sell part of all of the company, sending call option volume skyrocketing

by Kirra Fedyszyn

Published on Mar 23, 2016 at 3:22 PM

While some airline interests continue to reel from yesterday's attacks in Belgium, Virgin America Inc (NASDAQ:VA) has surged 13.5% to $34.81 today, after briefly being halted in early trading. Bloomberg reported that VA is considering a sale of part or all of the company, after receiving takeover interest from an undisclosed source. As a result, action in VA's options pits has been ramping up, with contracts changing hands at 24 times their typical intraday pace.

Specifically, traders are picking up VA calls at breakneck speed, with about 7,400 traded so far, compared to an expected volume of just 175 calls at this point in the day. Meanwhile, fewer than 950 VA puts have traded. The resulting put/call volume ratio of 0.12 is lower than 91% of readings from the past year, underscoring the much bigger-than-usual appetite for VA calls.

It appears a large number of speculators may be buying to open the April 30 and 35 calls -- the two most active contracts for the day. Traders bought the April 30 call for a volume-weighted average price (VWAP) of $3.00, meaning they will see a profit the higher VA moves above $33.00 (strike plus VWAP) prior to the close on Friday, April 15, when front-month options expire.

The April 35 call, meanwhile, is offered at a VWAP of $1.05, meaning buyers need the stock to top $36.05 to start collecting profits. Notably, delta on the 35-strike call soared to 0.50 from 0.067 in the previous session, meaning the probability of the call expiring in the money is now about 50%.

Stepping back, today's bullish betting marks a major shift for VA. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), the stock has a 10-day put/call volume ratio of 1.20 -- higher than 93% of all readings in the last 12 months. Likewise, VA's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 1.33 is in the 98th percentile of its annual range, showing near-term traders have been far more put-heavy than usual.

Prior to today, option buyers were getting quite the bargain on their short-term bets. VA's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) stood at 33% -- lower than 97% of the past year's readings. That means the options market was pricing in very low volatility expectations. Today, however, VA's 30-day at-the-money implied volatility jumped 37.4% to 46.7%, in the 80th percentile of its annual range.

Outside of the option pits, VA has seen short interest drop by more than 26% during the two most recent reporting periods. But these bearish bets still account for about 19% of the security's available float -- almost a full week's worth of trading, at VA's average daily volume.

From a technical standpoint, VA is breaking out above its 80-day moving average for the first time in 2016, and has now gained 32.3% since its all-time low of $26.30, tagged in early February. But whether today's rush of bulls or the existing pool of bears end up profiting could depend largely on if, and how, an offer pans out for Virgin America Inc (NASDAQ:VA).

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