U.S. stock futures are indicating a bit of a rebound from yesterday’s losses, which is a bit surprising given the dearth of data set to wash over Wall Street in the next two days. While a rate hike from the Federal Reserve is already priced in, Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen could still offer up a few surprises in her commentary on the Fed’s rate path and the strength of the U.S. economy.
What’s more, there is a veritable flood of economic data on tap today, with the consumer price index, retail sales, the Empire State index as well as home builders and business inventories.
In spite of this deluge of data, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were last seen higher by 0.17%, with S&P 500 futures up 0.25% and Nasdaq-100 futures adding 0.21%.
On the options front, Tuesday was another relatively low-volume session, as only about 12.5 million calls and 12.3 million puts changed hands. Over on the CBOE, the single-session equity put/call volume ratio extended Monday’s advance to arrive at 0.73, while the 10-day moving average settled in at 0.63.
Turning to Tuesday’s volume leaders, Valeant Pharmaceuticals Intl Inc (NYSE:VRX) drew mixed options activity after VRX stock plunged on news that hedge fund manager and activist investor Bill Ackman has exited his holdings in the company. Elsewhere, Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) saw renewed call options interest on Model Y rumors and a target hike from Deutsche Bank. Finally, Delta Air Lines, Inc. (NYSE:DAL) fell amid blizzard flight cancellations, but saw several large call bets looking for a rebound.
Valeant Pharmaceuticals Intl Inc (VRX)
VRX stock plunged more than 10% on Tuesday following news that activist investor Bill Ackman’s hedge fund completely closed out of its position in Valeant.
The timing of the news was particularly notable, coming just after the company initiated several new initiatives, including asset sales to help pay down debt. VRX shares are now trading just north of single-digit territory, an area the stock last flirted with in 2009.
Option volume on VRX ramped up to more than 535,000 contracts following the news, with calls and puts nearly split on the day. This divided sentiment among VRX options traders extends over the short- to intermediate-term, as the April put/call open interest ratio currently rests at 1.06, with calls and puts in near parity. Currently, peak April call OI totals about 20,000 contracts at the overhead $20 strike, while peak put OI of 36,000 contracts rests at the in-the-money $12.50 strike.
Tesla Inc (TSLA)
While most of the report hinged on already-known data, a speculative report from a British car publication ignited rumors that Tesla could be set to launch a new compact SUV dubbed the Model Y. According to the report, the Model Y is based on the Model 3’s platform and will be slightly more expensive than the Model 3. The report also concluded that, with the rising popularity of small SUVs in the U.S., “the compact Model Y could turn out to be Tesla’s best seller.”
Meanwhile, TSLA stock received another boost after Deutsche Bank lifted its price target on the shares from $215 to $220. Driving the upgrade, Deutsche Bank said it believes Tesla could hit breakeven by the fourth quarter of this year and move into profitability in 2018 as the Model 3 ramps up volume. That said, the upgrade still represents a discount to TSLA’s close north of $258 yesterday.
While the pair of reports was enough to move TSLA stock nearly 5% higher, options traders were not as impressed. Sure, total volume rose to a near-term high of 345,000 contracts, but calls only managed to eke out 56% of the day’s take. Looking out to the April series, TSLA options traders are just as stoic, with the put/call OI ratio ballooning to 1.31, with puts easily outnumbering calls on the month.
TSLA options bulls have their sights set on the $270 strike, where more than 3,500 contracts currently reside, while the bears have targeted the $210 strike with 3,300 contracts.
Delta Air Lines, Inc. (DAL)
Blizzard-like conditions snarled air travel in the Northeast yesterday, forcing the cancellation of more than 5,000 flights in New York, Boston and Washington D.C. In typical fashion, airline stocks were hit hard on the news, with the NYSE ARCA Airline Index dropping more than 2%. Delta shares were also punished, underperforming their peers with a 2.26% loss of altitude on the day.
But options traders weren’t having it. DAL saw volume soar to a near-term high of more than 254,000 contracts, with calls snapping up roughly 90% of the day’s take — an outsized ratio that is more typically seen ahead of ex-dividend dates. But DAL’s ex-div date passed late last month, meaning that options traders were buying up calls in earnest for another reason entirely.
Diving into data from Trade-Alert.com, we find that several large block trades crossed at DAL’s June $50 and $55 call strikes. While all of the trades crossed at separate times throughout the day, they all had the same basic design as the largest such trade, which involved 20,000 purchased June $50 calls and 20,000 sold June $55 puts — a bull call spread with an ask price of 94 cents, or $94 per contract, a break even of $50.94 and a maximum profit of $4.06, or $406 per pair of contracts.
That’s quite a return, if DAL can return to higher ground amid the summer travel season.
As of this writing, Joseph Hargett did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.