Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (CMG) Option Bears Aren't Deterred By Ackman Chatter

Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (CMG) option bears are active despite the stock's move upward on news that activist investor Bill Ackman is in confidential discussions with CMG

Nov 7, 2016 at 1:09 PM
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Restaurant stock Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG) is on the rise amid reports that CMG and activist investor Bill Ackman, who currently owns about a 10% stake in CMG, have agreed to engage in confidential discussions -- and potentially avoid a long proxy fight. Shareholders are likely hoping that Ackman can turn things around for the restaurant chain, plagued by a handful food-borne illness outbreaks at several of its locations; the stock is down about 50% since its August 2015 peak, and touched a three-year low last week. So far today, CMG is up 4.1% at $385.52 -- a welcome change of pace, though option bears aren't convinced.

In the option pits, CMG puts are crossing the line at an accelerated clip -- about 1.5 times their average intraday pace -- and are outpacing calls, 10,000 to 7,441. Most active is the March 300 put, with more than 2,900 contracts exchanged. It looks like some speculators are buying the puts to open, amid expectations for CMG to breach $300 -- territory not charted since early 2013 -- by March options expiration.

Widening the scope, today's accelerated put action isn't unusual. CMG's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 1.03 sits in the top 60% of all readings taken in the past year, indicating a slightly bigger-than-usual put bias among near-term option players. In addition, CMG's 10-day put/call volume ratio at the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) of 1.13 sits in the 84th percentile of its annual range, suggesting a stronger-than-usual bearish bias toward CMG over the last two weeks.

Drilling down, the leading open interest position is the December 350 put, though much of the action on this contract has been of the sell-to-open variety. The leading front-month open interest position is the November 405 call, which has seen significant buy-to-open activity, indicating the buyers are betting on a continued upswing through expiration on Nov. 18 -- a move that would require CMG to erase its late-October post-earnings bear gap.

Now looks like a good time to buy CMG's short-term options. The stock boasts a Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) of just 31%, which sits in the bottom quartile of its annual range, suggesting option traders are pricing in relatively muted volatility expectations as of late. Meanwhile, CMG's Schaeffer's Volatility Scorecard (SVS) of 92 suggests the stock has tended to exceed volatility expectations over the past 12 months.

Outside of the options pits, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. (NYSE:CMG) is no stranger to skepticism. While short interest is down 5.4% over the last two reporting periods, shorted shares still account for nearly 20% of CMG's float, which would take over a week of trading to cover, at CMG's average daily pace.

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