Options Traders Blast THC, HCA Stocks Ahead of Healthcare Vote

Put volume is trading at a faster-than-usual clip on Tenet Healthcare and HCA Holdings

Karee Venema
Mar 24, 2017 at 2:09 PM
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All eyes are glued on Capitol Hill today, where the fate of Obamacare hangs in the balance. After being delayed yesterday, the House vote over the American Health Care Act (AHCA) is expected today -- though rumors are swirling that Republicans may not have the numbers to pass the healthcare bill. Meanwhile, the stock market is hanging on every word coming out of Washington, and shares of Tenet Healthcare Corp (NYSE:THC) and HCA Holdings Inc (NYSE:HCA) are trading higher ahead of the vote. Options traders are joining in on the action, too, with both hospital stocks seeing an increase in intraday trading volume.

Options Traders Target Puts On Tenet Healthcare Stock

Roughly 9,900 put options have crossed the tape on THC -- 11 times what's typically seen at this point in the trading session. Almost 70% of the day's put volume has centered on the April 17.50 strike, where it seems safe to assume new positions are being purchased, a theory echoed by Trade-Alert. In other words, put buyers expect THC to retreat back below $17.50 by front-month options expiration at the close on Friday, April 21.

While the most these options buyers stand to lose is the initial premium paid, THC's 30-day at-the-money implied volatility has shot 25.5% higher today to 75% -- in the 98th percentile of its annual range. Simply stated, elevated volatility expectations are being priced into the stock's near-term options, making it more expensive to purchase premium.

On the charts, THC was last seen up 6% at $18.03, and is trading above its 10-day moving average for the first time in two weeks. Today's price action runs at a stark contrast to Tenet Healthcare Corp's longer-term trend, with THC shares down around 35% year-over-year. Plus, while the stock has added 21% in 2017, its recent rally was swiftly rejected by its descending 200-day moving average.

HCA Options Traders Bet On a Quick Pullback

HCA options are trading at three times the average intraday pace, with 6,484 contracts on the tape. Calls have the slight edge over puts on an absolute basis, though the stock's weekly 3/31 83.50-strike put is most active. It looks as if these puts are being bought to open, suggesting options traders are bracing for a quick retreat below $83.50 by next Friday's close, when the weekly series expires.

More broadly, puts have been bought to open over calls on HCA stock 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 security's 50-day put/call volume ratio of 1.99 ranks in the 79th annual percentile. In the last two weeks along, HCA's weekly 3/31 83.50-strike put has seen the biggest rise in open interest, along with the weekly 3/24 83.50-strike and April 85 puts, and buy-to-open activity has been detected at each out-of-the-money option.

At last check, HCA was trading up 3.3% at $85.89, and earlier came within 3 percentage points of taking out its March 3 annual high of $88.62. This is just more of the same for the hospital stock, which has surged 28% since hitting a post-election low of $67 on Nov. 9. After a recent pullback brought the shares of HCA Holdings Inc back to their October highs, the stock has since bounced back above its rising 40-day moving average -- a trendline that's ushered HCA higher for most of the year.

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