SEC Investigation Catches Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA) Bulls Off Guard

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NYSE:BABA) is being investigated by the SEC over possible accounting violations

by Karee Venema

Published on May 25, 2016 at 9:50 AM

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NYSE:BABA) is down 5.1% at $76.96, following reports the China-based e-commerce company is being investigated by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over a possible violation of accounting practices in regard to its annual Singles Day event. The negative price action is likely to catch some weekly options traders off guard, considering they were betting on a strong finish to the week for BABA stock.

Specifically, the weekly 5/27 80-, 81-, and 82-strike calls accounted for BABA's top three most active options on Tuesday -- where a collective 10,220 contracts traded -- with buy-to-open activity detected at each strike. In other words, options traders are betting on BABA to settle the week above the respective strikes by Friday's close, when the weekly series expires. Regardless of whether or not these calls expire out of the money (OOTM), though, losses are limited for the call buyers.

More broadly speaking, BABA call buyers have been more active than usual in recent weeks. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), for instance, the stock's 10-day call/put volume ratio of 2.29 rests higher than 67% of all comparable readings taken in the past year.

Echoing this call-skewed backdrop is BABA's gamma-weighted Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 0.48. Simply stated, near-the-money calls more than double puts among options set to expire in the front three-months' series of options.

However, although short interest dropped 9.6% in the two most recent reporting periods, these bearish bets still account for a healthy 8% of BABA's float -- or 7.8 times the stock's average daily pace of trading. As such, it's possible a portion of the recent call buying, particularly at OOTM strikes, could be a result of shorts hedging against any upside risk.

Regardless, now appears to be an opportune time to purchase premium on BABA's short-term options. For starters, the stock's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) of 25% rests lower than 89% of all comparable readings taken in the past year, meaning BABA's near-term options are pricing in relatively low volatility expectations at the moment. Plus, the security's Schaeffer's Volatility Scorecard (SVS) reading of 96 indicates the options market has historically underpriced BABA's ability to make big moves over the last 12 months.

On the charts, today's negative price action puts a dent in BABA's recent rebound, with the shares up almost 30% from their Feb. 9 year-to-date low of $59.25. This rally brought the shares face-to-face with their 2016 breakeven level -- located at $81.27 -- an area that contained Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's (NYSE:BABA) late-April surge.

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