A $1M Bullish Options Bet on J C Penney Company Inc (JCP)

J C Penney Company Inc's (JCP) "expense challenge" is killing the retail stock

by Alex Eppstein

Published on May 6, 2016 at 10:47 AM
Updated on May 6, 2016 at 10:47 AM

J C Penney Company Inc (NYSE:JCP) is drowning in red ink this morning, after the retailer announced drastic cost-cutting measures following "an expense challenge" in April. At last check, the stock was down 8.5% at $8.18 -- but one bullish options trader is rolling the dice on a near-term rebound.

Turning to the data, it appears one options player bought to open a block of 10,000 June 8 calls for $0.96 apiece -- resulting in a total cash outlay of $960,000 (premium paid * number of contracts * 100 shares per contract). By purchasing the in-the-money contracts, the trader expects JCP to rebound through back-month expiration, at the close on Friday, June 17. However, if the shares sink south of $8, she risks losing the entirety of the initial premium paid.

Taking a step back, JCP call options are running at a breakneck pace today, in large part due to the aforementioned block trade. More than 19,000 contracts have been exchanged -- 11 times the usual intraday level -- in the 99th annual percentile.

Today's big bullish options bet marks a break from the prevailing trend. Specifically, during the past two weeks at the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), traders have bought to open 1.62 puts for each call -- a ratio that ranks in the high 87th percentile of its 12-month range. Further highlighting the put-skew is JCP's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 1.91, which sits just 9 percentage points from an annual peak.

Options traders are hardly the only ones skeptical of the retail stock. In fact, short interest spiked 18.2% during the most recent reporting period, and accounts for nearly 30% of JCP's float -- which would take more than a week to cover, at typical trading levels. What's more, despite a recent bullish Barron's write-up, 10 of 17 analysts rate the shares a "hold" or worse, while J.P. Morgan Securities earlier slashed its price target on JCP to $7 from $10. This pronounced bearish bias is especially interesting, considering the retailer is slated to report earnings in one week.

But by no means is the negativity surprising. J C Penney Company Inc (NYSE:JCP) is a technical train wreck, and shows no signs of slowing down, based on today's downside gap. In fact, since hitting a two-year high of $11.99 in early March, the retail stock has plummeted 47%.

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