American Express Company (AXP) Call Players Turn Out After Upgrade

Following an upgrade at Oppenheimer, American Express Company (NYSE:AXP) is the leading Dow stock and call volume has accelerated

Jan 10, 2017 at 1:27 PM
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American Express Company (NYSE:AXP) has helped the Dow erase earlier losses -- and is the leading stock on the blue-chip barometer. Specifically, AXP stock is trading up 2.6% at $77.87 -- fresh off an annual high of $78 -- after Oppenheimer raised its rating on the stock to "outperform" from "perform." The brokerage firm highlighted five reasons it upgraded AXP, including potential tailwinds from increased corporate spending and possible shifts in tax policy. Against this backdrop, options volume is soaring -- trading at four times what's typically seen at this point in the day, with calls having a nearly 2-to-1 lead over puts.

Today's call-skewed session marks a drastic change of pace in AXP's options pits, however. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), for instance, the stock sports at top-heavy 10-day put/call volume ratio of 1.72, which ranks in the 73rd annual percentile. Simply stated, puts have been bought to open over calls at a faster-than-usual clip in recent weeks.

Echoing this is AXP's Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 1.94, which ranks above all other comparable readings taken in the past year. In other words, short-term speculators are more call-heavy now toward AXP than they've been at any other point in the last 12 months. Likewise, put open interest across all series is perched in the 97th percentile of its 52-week range, with 249,487 contracts outstanding. As a point of comparison, 148,135 AXP calls are currently open -- in the low 3rd annual percentile.

And while short-term AXP puts have rarely priced in such low volatility expectations relative to calls -- per the stock's 30-day at-the-money implied volatility skew of 11%, which ranks in the 3rd annual percentile -- premium on all near-term options is fairly expensive at the moment, historically speaking. In fact, with expectations high ahead of the company's after-the-close earnings on Thursday, Jan. 19, AXP's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) of 36% ranks just 7 percentage points from a 52-week peak, while its 30-day at-the-money implied volatility of 26.1% ranks in the 81st percentile of its annual range.

Looking at the charts, American Express Company (NYSE:AXP) broke out above previous congestion in the $66-$67 region in early November, amid a broader post-election rally in financial shares. Since then, the stock has tacked on 16%, and although the shares are facing historical headwinds, they are trading comfortably north of their 50-month moving average. The last time AXP settled north of this trendline on a monthly closing basis was in October 2015.

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