Centene Options Volume Peaks on Buyout Buzz

Calls and puts are flying off the shelves today

Karee Venema
Mar 27, 2019 at 10:37 AM
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The shares of Centene Corp (NYSE:CNC) are spiraling, after the U.S. health insurer said it was buying rival WellCare Health Plans (WCG) in a cash-and-stock deal valued at $17.3 billion, including debt. The purchase is expected to boost CNC's Medicaid division, as well as its exposure to the Medicare Advantage market, and comes amid a renewed effort from the Trump administration to repeal Obamacare.

At last check, CNC shares were down 7.4% at $50.80, on track for their fourth straight loss. The stock is down 12.1% year-to-date, but the round $50 level appears to be emerging as support, though, a region that marks Centene's early 2018 lows.

Options traders have been quick to react, with roughly 18,000 calls and 3,507 puts on the tape -- 20 times what's typically seen at this point, and total options volume already at a new 52-week peak.

Most active is the April 55 call, where it looks like speculators could be selling to open the options. If this is the case, they're setting a short-term ceiling for CNC stock. Traders could also be anticipating a volatility crush. Short-term volatility expectations have spiked today, per Centene's 30-day at-the-money implied volatility of 37.1% -- in the 96th percentile of its annual range.


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