Call Traders Run From J C Penney Ahead of Earnings

JCP's top 3 open interest positions are puts in the January 2018 series

Aug 10, 2017 at 11:43 AM
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Retail stocks are getting crushed today, following a disappointing earnings report from Kohl's. At last check, the SPDR S&P Retail ETF (XRT) has given back 2.3% to trade at $39.72, and with several other prominent sector components ready to report earnings over next week, the exchange-traded fund (ETF) could remain in focus. For example, J C Penney Company Inc (NYSE:JCP) will release earnings ahead of the open tomorrow, and there's been some notable options trading activity surrounding the stock ahead of the event. Below, we'll detail the must-know options data for JCP ahead of the retailer's quarterly event. 

First of all, J C Penney's top three open interest positions belong to the January 2018 5-, 4-, and 3-strike puts, respectively, and data from the major options exchanges confirms substantial buy-to-open activity at each contract. As such, traders are betting on JCP stock falling below the strikes by Jan. 19, 2018, when the options expire. For reference, the shares' all-time low is $4.17, touched on May 15. 

Near-term options traders are also bearish, as the August 5 put ranks fifth on JCP's top open positions list, and traders have been buying to open positions there, too. This means they're expecting the retail stock to fall further below $5 before the front-month contracts expire on Aug. 18. Moreover, according to J C Penney's front-month gamma-weighted Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) of 1.64, puts easily outnumber calls in the August series. 

And today's options activity suggests the few bullish traders there were are starting to hit the bricks. Specifically, call volume hit a 52-week high already today, due to traders closing positions at the weekly August 11 5.50-strike call, where more than 24,000 contracts have crossed. These traders are likely abandoning their bullish bets amid JCP's sharp downturn today. 

The stock's post-earnings history could also be making these former bulls skittish. After the company's last earnings release in May, the shares dropped 14% in the subsequent session, while they gave back 5.8% the day after earnings back in February. Overall, JCP has averaged a post-earnings swing of 8.5% during the past eight quarters, regardless of direction. 

But anyone looking to use options to speculate on JCP better be willing to pay up. Ahead of the quarterly event, the equity's Schaeffer's Volatility Index (SVI) has jumped to a 52-week high of 131%. Said differently, volatility expectations are extremely high for near-term options at the moment. 

As alluded to, J C Penney stock is deep in the red today, last seen down 6% at $4.85. This puts the shares on pace for their first close below the 50-day moving average since July 12, a level that acted as resistance from late March to mid-July. As it stands now, JCP has lost roughly half its value over the past 12 months. 

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