U.S. stock futures are trading sharply lower this morning, as Wall Street seeks cover ahead of what could be a very volatile weekend. Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic storm ever, is barreling toward Florida, while political tensions are on edge ahead of a potential North Korean missile launch.
The North’s founding day is this Saturday, and the country has a history of using military displays in celebration. What’s more, North Korea put the world on edge last week after testing a potential hydrogen bomb. Geopolitical analysts believe that a North Korean missile launch could take place on Saturday amid the country’s founding day celebrations.
Against this backdrop, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average have fallen 0.25%, S&P 500 futures are down 0.21% and Nasdaq-100 futures have shed 0.15%.
On the options front, traders pushed volume back toward normal levels on Thursday, with roughly 14.8 million calls and 12.3 million puts changing hands. On the CBOE, the single-session equity put/call volume ratio dipped to 0.55, while the 10-day moving average ticked lower to 0.60.
Taking a closer look at Thursday’s options activity, T-Mobile US Inc’s (NASDAQ:TMUS) free Netflix, Inc. (NASDAQ:NFLX) deal has investors in AT&T Inc. (NYSE:T) worried about potential subscriber losses. Speaking of subscriber losses, both Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) and Comcast Corporation (NASDAQ:CMCSA) indicated issues with cable subscribers in their mid-quarter updates.
AT&T Inc. (T)
Subscriber growth was already tight for AT&T. With cord cutting eating away at its U-Verse and DirecTV subs, and the wireless market always being ultra-competitive, T stock has struggled to make any headway this year.
T-Mobile broadsided AT&T’s growth expectations last week by announcing free Netflix for unlimited subscribers. Growth expectations were already slim for AT&T, but T-Mobile’s Netflix deal could make matters even worse this quarter.
T stock has fallen 5.5% since the announcement, and puts volume has ramped up considerably. Take Thursday’s activity for example. Volume rose to 253,000 contracts yesterday, nearly five times T’s daily average. What’s more, puts made up nearly half of that excessive volume.
Looking out to October options, the put/call open interest ratio currently stands at a lofty 1.69 for T stock, with puts easily outnumbering calls in this back-month series. The heaviest put accumulations are at the Oct $37 strike, with more than 52,000 put contracts open. Meanwhile, the $36 and $34 strike puts have seen continued accumulations — maybe options traders are taking advice from my colleague Chris Tyler.
Walt Disney Co (DIS)
According to CEO Bob Iger, Disney 2017 earnings will be “roughly in line” with last year. It was not what DIS investors wanted to hear, and the stock dropped nearly 4.4% following the news. Analysts are blaming cord cutting, the fact that ESPN is still hemorrhaging subscribers and a less robust movie line up for the disappointing guidance.
DIS options traders backed puts following Iger’s comments. Volume rose to 150,000 contracts, tripling DIS’ daily average. Puts, meanwhile, made up 51% of the day’s take. DIS options traders had shown a preference for calls ahead of Iger’s comments, with the October put/call OI ratio hitting a near-term low of 0.41 yesterday. That reading has risen to 0.43 today, as puts were added at a much faster rate than calls on Thursday, marking a potential shift in sentiment on DIS.
Comcast Corporation (CMCSA)
Comcast is also struggling with subscriber growth woes. The company said Xfinity subscriber numbers would drop by 100,000 to 150,000 in the third quarter. While I would suspect cord cutting and increased online streaming competition for the decline — after all, even Disney is moving away from cable TV offerings as fast as it can — Comcast is blaming at least part of the drop on Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
CMCSA options traders, however, are hopeful for a rebound in the stock. Volume on Thursday rose to 135,000 contracts, nearly seven times the stock’s daily average. Calls made up the majority of this activity, with this typically bullish bets snapping up 66% of the day’s take.
That said, at least one trader opened up what appears to be an in-the-money risk reversal spread on CMCSA. The trader sold roughly 17,000 Dec $34 calls and bought 17,000 Dec $35 calls, per data from Trade-Alert.com. This trade hits its maximum profit potential if CMCSA trades below $34 when December options expire.
As of this writing, Joseph Hargett did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.