The $2.9 Million Bet On a Treasury Bond Bounce

Treasury bond prices have sold off since the U.S. presidential election, but one iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT) option trader is betting on a big bounce

Dec 22, 2016 at 9:54 AM
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Nearly 150,000 calls traded on the iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT) on Wednesday -- two times the average daily pace, and in the 98th annual percentile. Almost all of the option activity centered at TLT's February 126 call, where several large blocks crossed in mid-afternoon trading. Most notably was a 68,088-contract block that was bought to open for an initial cash outlay of roughly $2.9 million (number of contracts * $0.43 premium paid * 100 shares per contract). In other words, this option trader is betting on a big bounce for Treasury bonds, which have suffered amid the stock market's post-election surge.

More broadly, options traders have been buying to open TLT calls over puts at a faster-than-usual clip in recent months. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), the exchange-traded fund's (ETF) 50-day call/put volume ratio of 0.92 ranks in the elevated 83rd percentile of its annual range.

And with the February 126 call now home to TLT's top open interest position -- with more than 107,000 contracts outstanding -- its Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 0.99 sits below 82% of all comparable readings taken in the past 12 months. Simply stated, short-term speculators are more call-heavy than usual toward the bond ETF.

However, it's certainly possible that traders purchasing out-of-the-money calls are actually short sellers looking to hedge their bearish bond bets against any unexpected upside. Short interest on TLT surged 18% in the most recent reporting period, and with 16.1 million shares sold short, these bearish bets are at their loftiest perch since mid-January.

Regardless, now appears to be an opportune time for bargain-hunting options buyers to strike TLT. Specifically, the ETF's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) of 13% registers in the 23rd annual percentile -- suggesting low volatility expectations are currently priced into TLT's near-term options.

On the charts, shares of the iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT) have been spiraling since topping out at a July 8 record peak of $143.62. More recently, these losses have been exacerbated amid the broad-market Trump rally, with TLT down 9.6% from its Nov. 8 close at $130.09 -- and fresh off last Friday's annual low of $116.80. This negative price action is continuing this morning, with the bond ETF down 0.4% at $117.60.

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