AT&T Inc. (T), Time Warner Inc (TWX) Options Volume Hits Fever Pitch

Takeover chatter has sparked animated options trading on AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) and Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX)

by Andrea Kramer

Published on Oct 21, 2016 at 1:29 PM

AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) could make a bid for Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX) as early as this weekend (subscription required), according to media reports. Amid the unconfirmed takeover chatter, the shares of T have dropped 2.5% to sit at $37.68, while TWX is enjoying a 7.6% lead at $89.29. What's more, options traders are flooding both T and TWX, with volume hitting fever pitch.

T is on pace to end beneath its 10-month moving average for the first time since November, and has surrendered 14.2% since touching a multi-year high of $43.89 in early July. With 52.2 million T shares traded so far today, stock volume is on pace to hit an annual high.

T put volume is also headed for an annual high, with more than 115,000 contracts exchanged -- nine times the average intraday clip, and more than double the 61,000 T calls traded so far. According to Trade-Alert, a block of close to 40,000 December 35 puts was bought to open for $0.25 a contract, or a cool $1 million ($0.25 x 100 shares per contract x 40,000 contracts). The buyer is either betting on T to breach $35 within the next couple of months -- which encompasses AT&T Inc.'s (NYSE:T) earnings release next Tuesday -- or they're purchasing puts to hedge their T shares against a steeper decline.

After being temporarily halted for volatility earlier, TWX is fresh off a 15-year high of $94.44, and has now added 46% in 2016. Stock volume has already surpassed its February high, with about 35.1 million TWX shares traded so far. Put volume is also on pace for an annual high, with about 17,600 contracts traded -- 10 times the norm. However, calls are the options of choice, with 36,000 contracts exchanged -- also 10 times the average intraday clip.

It looks like one strategist bought to open 1,920 weekly 10/28 95-strike calls for $2.09 apiece. Then, to help fund her bullish bet, simultaneously sold an equal number of 10/28 90-strike puts for $1.91 each, resulting in a debit of $0.18 per spread, or about $34,560 ($0.18 x 100 shares per contract x 1,920 spreads). 

The trader will begin to profit if TWX surges north of $95.18 (call strike plus net debit) by next Friday's close -- possibly in the wake of a formal T bid. If T remains between $90 and $95, the most the speculator will lose is the initial premium paid, while losses will accumulate on a move south of $90, due to the sold puts.

Today's appetite for Time Warner Inc (NYSE:TWX) calls is a change of pace for the media giant. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), the stock's 50-day put/call volume ratio of 2.94 indicates that traders have bought to open nearly three puts for every call during the past 10 weeks. Further, this ratio is higher than 99% of all others from the past year, pointing to a healthier-than-usual appetite for bearish bets of late.

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