First Solar Stock Rally Crushes Options Bears

First Solar is heavily shorted

Sep 22, 2017 at 2:26 PM
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Solar stocks are getting a lift today thanks to news the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) found cheap imports were harming domestic solar panel producers. One of the biggest beneficiaries so far is First Solar, Inc. (NASDAQ:FSLR), which is trading 5.2% higher at $51.28, earlier hitting an annual high of $53. This move is coming at the expense of options traders, who had been betting bearishly coming into today. 

Data from the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX) shows a 10-day put/call volume ratio of 1.23 for FSLR, which ranks in the 92nd annual percentile. This means put buying has been unusually popular in recent weeks, relative to call buying. 

During this time span, the October 40 put saw the largest increase in open interest, with 6,633 contracts added. In fact, this contract is now home to peak front-month open interest of 7,007 contracts. Data from the major options exchanges shows almost exclusive buy-to-open activity here, as well as the October 47.50 put, which also carries significant open interest. These bears were hoping for First Solar stock to fall below the strikes before expiration on Friday, Oct. 20. 

In today's trading, puts are crossing at seven times the expected pace, with almost 37,800 contracts exchanged. The October 47.50 put is actually the most popular contract, as traders close positions amid today's rally. Further down the list is the October 49 put, where buy-to-open activity has been detected, suggesting some traders are still trying to bet on a FSLR pullback. 

Those initiating new bearish bets in today's session are willing to pay up, too.  The stock's 30-day implied volatility skew of 7.9% is just 14 percentage points from an annual high, meaning near-term puts are much more expensive than normal, compared to calls.

Options traders aren't the only one betting bearishly on the solar stock. That is, short interest edged up 2% in the two most recent reporting periods, and now represents over 14% of the total float. Going by average daily volumes, this represents almost eight days' worth of buying power. If short sellers begin to throw in the towel, it should result in more tailwinds for FSLR. 

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