Retrophin Inc (RTRX) Options Explode on Upbeat Drug Data

Retrophin Inc (RTRX) options are trading at an accelerated rate, as the stock soars on drug data

Sep 7, 2016 at 12:06 PM
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Biotech stock Retrophin Inc (NASDAQ:RTRX) has soared 37.9% to $22.51 today on news its kidney drug, sparsentan, met its goals in a mid-stage trial. The shares were well into the red on a year-to-date basis last night, but are now nearly 17% higher, on pace for their largest single-day gain in more than two years -- and outpacing all Nasdaq stocks. As a result, stock volume has hit a new annual high, and options volume -- typically light on an absolute basis -- is running in the 98th percentile of its annual range.

Digging down, put options are trading at nine times their expected intraday rate, while calls are at five times the norm. The front-month September series is popular, representing six of the 10 most active options. One of the most popular strikes is the September 25 call, where it looks like speculators may be selling to open new positions, expecting the $25 area to serve as a ceiling for the shares through the option's expiration, at the close on Friday, Sept. 16. Meanwhile, the now at-the-money September 22.50 call is seeing buy-to-open action. Call buyers are betting on RTRX extending its lead above the strike price by next Friday night.

More broadly speaking, call buying has been a popular strategy in RTRX's options pits of late. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), traders have bought to open more than seven calls for every put over the past 50 sessions. The resulting call/put volume ratio of 7.29 sits higher than 96% of comparable readings in the last 12 months.

But it's likely some of the recent call buyers were actually short sellers looking for a hedge against a surprise upside move, such as today's. Nearly 32% of RTRX's total float is wrapped up in short interest -- including an increase of 11.6% during the most recent two-week reporting period -- marking the highest level on record. In all, it would take nearly 13 sessions to buy back all these bearish bets, at the stock's average trading rate.

Adding to our speculation that some of the long calls were protective in nature is Retrophin Inc's (NASDAQ:RTRX) woeful performance, prior to today. As of Tuesday's close, shares of the company -- founded by price-gouging poster boy Martin Shkreli -- were sitting on a nearly 40% year-over-year loss.

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