Thursday’s Vital Data: Apple Inc. (AAPL), Intel Corporation (INTC) and Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)

U.S. stock futures are marching higher this morning as Wall Street celebrates the passage of the Republican tax bill. All that’s left is for President Donald Trump to sign the controversial tax plan.

Attention now turns to a slew of economic reports slated for release this week. Weekly jobless claims, revised third-quarter GDP, the November Chicago Fed national activity index and the December Philly Fed manufacturing index are all on tap later this morning.

Against this backdrop, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average are up 0.14%, S&P 500 futures have added 0.18% and Nasdaq-100 futures have gained 0.07%.

Options volume was moderate on Wednesday. About 16.1 million calls and 11.8 million puts changed hands on the session. The CBOE single-session equity put/call volume ratio rose to 0.56 and the 10-day moving average hit another 52-week low of 0.57.

Taking a closer look at Wednesday’s options activity, Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) saw call volume back off from this week’s rapid pace after the company admitted to degrading older iPhone performance. Meanwhile, Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC) saw increased call options volume after CEO Brian Krzanich pledged to take more risks in 2018. Finally, Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) received a boost following a Jefferies quarterly report on cloud services.

Apple Inc. (AAPL)

Apple confirmed yesterday what many older iPhone users have long suspected. The company purposefully degrades the performance of older phones with new software releases. Apple finally admitted to this after an outcry from third-party examinations.

According to Apple, it does this in “a bid to deliver the best experience for its customers.” Specifically, Apple’s software scales back CPU and GPU performance in devices with older batteries to ensure the device remains functional.

AAPL stock took a slight hit on the news, and options trading retreated its recent brisk focus on call contracts. Volume yesterday came in at 310,000 contracts, or about 71% of AAPL’s daily average. Calls accounted for just 63% of the day’s take, down from an average north of 65% in the past week.

Furthermore, this Apple admission dovetailed with a downgrade earlier this week to send the stock’s January 2018 put/call open interest ratio higher to 1.08 — a near-term peak for AAPL stock. With Apple already in a short-term pullback, a deepening of bearish sentiment could mean a poor showing in January.

Intel Corporation (INTC)

Intel renewed its commitment to risk taking and innovation yesterday. CEO Brian Krzanich told employees in a memo yesterday that Intel will take more risks and that change will be the “new normal.” With competition in the semiconductor market hotter than it has been in decades, Krzanich is pushing to make sure that Intel doesn’t become another has-been blue chip company.

“We’re just inches away from being a 50/50 company, meaning that half our revenue comes from the PC and half from new growth markets,” Krzanich wrote.

While intended for employees, the memo inspired INTC stock bulls yesterday pushing the shares higher and driving a round of bullish call activity. Specifically, volume jumped to 173,000 contracts, more than doubling INTC’s daily average. Calls snatched up 71% of the day’s take, also well above normal for Intel.

There is still quite a bit of bearish sentiment to overcome for INTC, however. The January 2018 put/call OI ratio, for example, rests at a lofty perch of 1.34. This heavy attention to INTC put options may be on the protective side, however, as the stock approaches fresh 52-week highs. Should INTC break out toward $50, we could seen another influx of call activity on the shares.

Microsoft Corporation (MSFT)

MSFT stock was also unusually call heavy in Wednesday’s trading. Volume rose to 145,000 contracts, or about 1.4 times Microsoft’s daily average. Calls made up 60% of the day’s take, also coming in above average.

Driving yesterday’s call action was a quarterly report on public cloud services from Jefferies. The report noted that 86% of public cloud revenue is being raked in by just seven companies., Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) Amazon Web Services (AWS) is in the lead for infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) sectors, with Microsoft coming in second. However, when software-as-a-service (SaaS) is taken into account, Microsoft surges into the lead due to strong revenues from it’s Office online offerings.

What’s more, Jefferies noted that in IaaS and PaaS, Microsoft’s Azure has seen year-over-year growth of 89%, compared to just 42% for AWS. Continued outperformance from Microsoft in the cloud should drive call volume for MSFT stock heading into 2018.

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

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