United States Oil Fund LP ETF (USO) Calls Hot as Saudi Arabia Sinks Crude

United States Oil Fund LP ETF (USO) is falling with crude oil prices

Sep 23, 2016 at 2:14 PM
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Oil prices are crumbling, amid reports Saudi Arabia has poured cold water on expectations an output agreement will be reached by Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC producers at next week's highly anticipated meeting in Algiers. While this comes just hours after speculation was swirling that Saudi Arabia had set forth a conditional plan to curb output, the uncertainty has sent the United States Oil Fund LP ETF (USO) down 3.5% to trade at $10.16. Nevertheless, USO call volume is soaring, with one options trader betting big on an end-of-year bounce.

Taking a quick step back, roughly 116,000 USO calls have changed hands so far -- in the elevated 87th percentile of the exchange-traded fund's (ETF) intraday range -- compared to around 78,000 puts. Most active is the December 11.50 call, due to a 28,235-contract block that was bought to open for a about $1.1 million (number of contracts * $0.39 premium paid * 100 shares per contract).

This initial cash outlay is also the most the speculator stands to lose, should the calls expire out of the money at the close on Friday, Dec. 16. Meanwhile, profit for the call buyer will accelerate on a move above breakeven at $11.89 (strike plus premium paid).

Today's skew toward calls is just more of the same for USO options traders. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), the ETF's 10-day call/put volume ratio of 1.65 ranks in the 89th annual percentile. In other words, calls have been bought to open over puts at a faster-than-usual clip.

Drilling down, a number of these traders have set their sights on the $11.50 level as well, considering USO's October 11.50 call has seen the biggest rise in open interest over this time frame -- with more than 258,000 contracts added. Plus, at least some of this activity has been of the buy-to-open kind, according to data from the major options exchanges.

Looking at the charts, the United States Oil Fund LP ETF (USO) hasn't seen the north side of $11.50 since early July. As such, it's possible the recent activity at the out-of-the-money 11.50 strike is a result of short sellers hedging their bearish energy bets against any upside risk. For USO, specifically, short interest is up almost 56% on the year.

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