U.S. stock futures are mixed heading into the first trading day of 2018. Investors appear to be searching for a new driver for the major market indices now that tax reform has passed.
Geopolitical concerns are headlining this morning, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claiming to have a “nuclear button.” However, Un suggested he is willing to engage in talks with South Korea at next month’s Winter Olympics.
Heading into the open, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average are up 0.28%, S&P 500 futures are up 0.28% and Nasdaq-100 futures have added 0.37%.
Turning to the options pits, Friday’s volume was respectable despite being on the light side. Overall, about 13.8 million calls and 11.8 million puts changed hands. The CBOE single-session equity put/call volume ratio rose to a one-week high of 0.59 and the 10-day moving average held at 0.57.
Taking a closer look at Friday’s options activity, Micron Technology, Inc. (NASDAQ:MU) attracted heavy call volume on the last trading day of 2017. Elsewhere, General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) options traders held out hope that 2018 couldn’t get any worse. Finally, President Donald Trump took aim at Amazon.com, Inc.’s (NASDAQ:AMZN) relationship with the U.S. Postal Service.
Micron Technology, Inc. (MU)
MU finished 2017 as the fastest growing semiconductor stock, with a gain of more than 87% on the year. Micron rode a wave of growth in the memory market, with strong memory prices vaulting the company into the top five semiconductor stocks by revenue. What’s more, investors appear to be betting on the trend to carry over into 2018.
Volume on the last trading day of 2017 came in at a brisk pace for MU stock. More than 301,000 MU options contracts traded on Friday, with calls making up 69% of the day’s take. Overall, MU’s January 2018 put/call open interest ratio rests at a lowly perch of 0.63 for the first expiration month of 2018.
But calls did not hold a monopoly on MU’s options activity on Friday. Data from Trade-Alert.com reveals that a block of 10,000 July $40 puts traded in the early afternoon at the bid price of $4.30, or $430 per contract. These contracts appear to have been sold to open. This means that the trader is either looking to pick up MU stock at $40 on a pullback, or expecting MU stock to hold above $40 through expiration.
General Electric Company (GE)
GE was 2017’s Dog of the Dow. The stock shed nearly half its value last year amid restructuring concerns as new CEO John Flannery did everything in his power to slash costs, layoff workers and sell underperforming divisions.
But General Electric pays out a quarterly dividend of 43 cents per share, resulting in a dividend yield of 2.75% — among the highest on the Dow right now. As a result, many investors are looking at GE stock as a potential value play for 2018. Among those betting on a bounce are GE options traders.
On Friday, GE options volume rose to 230,000 contracts, or roughly 1.5 times the stock’s daily average. Calls made up an impressive 67% of the day’s take.
Furthermore, it would appear that many of these calls were opened in the January 2018 series, as the put/call OI ratio fell from 0.50 last week to today’s perch at 0.48. In other words, GE options traders are betting on a fresh start for 2018 for this Dog of the Dow.
Amazon.com, Inc. (AMZN)
With a gain of roughly 56%, AMZN stock put in a stellar performance in 2017. But that strong performance has drawn considerable ire from the current U.S. administration. President Trump tweeted out that Amazon is giving the U.S. Postal Service a raw deal.
“Why is the United States Post Office, which is losing many billions of dollars a year, while charging Amazon and others so little to deliver their packages, making Amazon richer and the Post Office dumber and poorer? Should be charging MUCH MORE!” Trump said on Twitter.
AMZN options traders took the criticism in stride, however. Volume on Friday rose to 143,000 contracts, with calls managing 55% of the day’s take. Still, AMZN options activity points toward skepticism for the first month of the year.
Currently, the January 2018 put/call OI ratio rests at 1.15 for AMZN, with puts outnumbering calls. That said, such activity is not unusual for a stock trading north of $1,000, given that premiums on near-the-money options are considerably high. As a result, many of these AMZN puts were likely sold-to-open in the hopes of capturing premium.
As of this writing, Joseph Hargett did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.