UNG Options Traders Target Technical Resistance

Oil prices surged today, while gasoline futures retreated

Sep 5, 2017 at 3:05 PM
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October-dated crude futures surged 2.9% today to settle at $48.66 per barrel, as key U.S. refineries come back online in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Gasoline futures, on the other hand, plunged 2.8% to $1.70 per gallon after skimming two-year-high territory last week, with some speculating Hurricane Irma could lower demand for gas. Natural gas prices are also on the decline amid forecasts for milder temperatures, with the United States Natural Gas Fund LP (UNG) trading down 2.8% at $6.60. And while UNG call volume is running at an accelerated clip today, not all options traders are betting on a quick bounce.

By the numbers, 26,301 calls have changed hands on UNG so far -- 1.9 times what's typically seen at this point in the day, and volume pacing for the 94th annual percentile. As a point of comparison, just 3,895 puts have traded, about half of the fund's average daily put volume. 

UNG's weekly 10/13 7-strike call is most active, with 7,341 contracts on the tape. The bulk of this activity occurred when a 5,209-contract block was likely sold to open for an initial net credit of $57,299 (number of contracts * $0.11 premium collected * 100 shares per contract). The call writer can pocket this as the maximum potential reward, should UNG stay south of $7 through expiration at the close on Friday, Oct. 13. Risk, meanwhile, is quite substantial on a breakout above the strike price.

Widening the scope, the 7 strike has been popular among UNG options traders. While the October 7 call is home to peak open interest of 51,736 contracts, the September 7 call carries substantial open interest of 14,536. Data from the major options exchanges confirms a mix of buy- and sell-to-open activity at each strike in recent months.

Currently, $7 is home to UNG's 120-day moving average -- a trendline that contained a mid-May rally in the shares. Plus, this level, which coincides with the fund's 2015 lows, has served as a ceiling for UNG since June. And while the shares just wrapped up their historically weakest trading month of the year with a rare 6.2% gain, they tend to struggle in September and October. According to data from Schaeffer's Quantitative Analyst Chris Prybal, UNG has averaged a 0.3% loss in September since its inception, and a 4.7% decline in October.

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