Friday’s Vital Data: Apple Inc. (AAPL), J C Penney Company Inc (JCP) and United Technologies Corporation (UTX)

After struggling for the past two mornings, U.S. stocks are poised for a positive open this morning. A rebound in Asian trading and strength in oil prices has helped improve sentiment on Wall Street. Meanwhile, traders will be greeted with economic reports on January’s core inflation, personal income and consumer spending as well as February’s consumer sentiment index.

Heading into the open, U.S. stock futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were last seen higher by 0.6%, with S&P 500 futures up 0.63% and Nasdaq Composite futures up 0.75%.

Despite a recent show of strength from stocks, options traders continued to favor ETFs on Thursday, though calls are replacing puts as the most popular option contract. Over on the CBOE, the single-session equity put/call volume ratio fell to a one-month low of 0.62, driving the 10-day moving average to a two-week low of 0.74.

In equity options news, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) was greeted with good news on Thursday, after a Brand Key survey ranked the company’s at the top among customers. Elsewhere, J C Penney Company Inc (NYSE:JCP) shares surged ahead of this morning’s fourth-quarter earnings report. Finally, United Technologies Company (NYSE:UTX) saw heavy speculation on rumors of a tie-up between it and rival Honeywell International Inc. (NYSE:HON).

Friday’s Vital Options Data: Apple Inc. (AAPL), J C Penney Company Inc (JCP), and United Technologies Corporation (UTX)

Apple Inc. (AAPL)

According to a Brand Key survey, Apple ranks as the top brand for smartphone, tablet, and laptop customers.  Furthermore, the results also indicated that Apple was making serious inroads into customer preference in the desktop computer market. Overall, however, the iPhone remained Apple’s most popular product, especially among teenagers.

Option volume for AAPL stock was considerably below average on Thursday, with only about 742,500 contracts changing hands. Furthermore, call volume was also lackluster, with these typically bullish bets accounting for 58% of the day’s take.

Heading into today’s expiration of weekly Feb 26 series options, AAPL is looking up at more than 12,000 contracts at the $97 call strike, with another 14,900 calls at the $98 strike. If premarket action holds true, then AAPL could bounce between $97 and $98 through the close today.

J C Penney Company Inc (JCP)

J C Penney nailed it this morning with its fourth-quarter earnings report.  For the quarter, Penney reported earnings of 39 cents per share, up from four cents last year and besting Wall Street’s target of 23 cents. Revenue jumped 2.6% to $4 billion, versus expectations for $3.99 billion, and J C Penny said it expects a 3%-4% jump in same-store sales for 2016.

Heading into the report, JCP surged more than 8%, with increased options volume pushing the stock toward an unusual appearance on the most active options listing. Total volume rose to nearly 200,000 contracts, while calls accounted for 67% of the day’s take.

JCP is trading up another 11% in pre-market activity, placing the stock north of all major call OI strikes, save the $9.50 strike — which will likely fall during today’s regular session. Currently, there are 2,243 calls open at the $9.50 strike.

United Technologies Corporation (UTX)

UTX stock received a nearly 5% bump on Thursday after legal council for rival Honeywell said that a tie-up between the two companies was feasible. UTX and Honeywell had held merger talks before, but United Technologies felt the deal was not beneficial enough.

Options traders jumped on the speculation, sending nearly 157,000 contracts across the tape on UTX. Calls were the most popular, accounting for 75% of the day’s take. UTX is trading in a bit of a no-man’s land on the weekly February options front, with peak call OI of 1,686 well overhead at the $100 strike, while the next highest OI accumulation totals 1,572 call contracts at the $95 strike.

As of this writing, Joseph Hargett did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.

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