Freeport-McMoRan Inc (FCX) Option Bear Bets $4.9 Million

Freeport-McMoRan Inc (NYSE:FCX) is having a standout week, but options traders aren't buying it

by Karee Venema

Published on Apr 22, 2016 at 2:56 PM

Freeport-McMoRan Inc (NYSE:FCX) has been barreling higher this week -- thanks to a boost from rising metal prices. Today, the shares are up 3% at $11.87, putting FCX stock on track to notch a 9.3% weekly gain. Options traders aren't buying the upside, though, with put volume running at three times what's typically seen at this point in the day.

By the numbers, around 104,000 put options have changed hands on FCX, compared to about 51,000 call options. FCX's June 11 put is easily the most active option thus far, with more than 62,700 contracts on the tape. The majority of this activity is the result of one speculator buying to open a 44,578-contract block of these back-month puts for roughly $4.9 million (number of contracts * $1.10 premium paid * 100 shares per contract.

If this is the case -- as Trade-Alert indicates -- the goal for the "vanilla" put buyer is for FCX to retreat south of $11 by the time the options expire, at the close on Friday, June 17. Specifically, the buyer's profits will increase the deeper FCX sinks beneath $9.90 (strike minus premium paid). On the other hand, the buyer could be an FCX shareholder seeking a pre-earnings hedge. Either way, should the shares remain above the strike price, the initial cash outlay is also the most the put buyer stands to lose.

More broadly speaking, it's been calls that have been preferred in FCX's options pits. Over the past 10 sessions, speculators at the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) have bought to open 61,336 calls on FCX, compared to 46,682 puts -- resulting in a top-heavy call/put volume ratio of 1.31. With nearly 13% of the stock's float sold short, though, some of this call buying could be of the protective kind.

Nevertheless, with the mining firm slated to report earnings ahead of next Tuesday's opening bell, volatility expectations are ramping up. Specifically, FCX's 30-day at-the-money implied volatility of 87.2% ranks in the 77th percentile of its annual range. In other words, premium on FCX's near-term options is a little pricey at the moment, historically speaking.

In fact, the options market is pricing in a huge 11.3% swing for FCX in the session subsequent to reporting. Looking back over the past eight quarters, Freeport-McMoRan Inc (NYSE:FCX) has averaged a much slimmer single-session post-earnings move of 3.9%. Drilling down, in five of these eight quarters, the post-earnings price action has resolved to the downside, although in late January, the shares rallied 6.6% in the wake of the firm's results.

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