U.S. stock futures are trending higher this morning. Wall Street is shifting its focus from corporate earnings to the Federal Reserve this week. The central bank will offer up minutes from its latest meeting this Wednesday, while Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will give a speech in Jackson Hole at the Fed’s annual summer retreat.
Heading into the open, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average are up 0.18% with S&P 500 futures adding 0.15%. Nasdaq-100 futures, meanwhile, have rallied 0.22%.
In the options pits, volume evaporated on Monday as speculation surrounding corporate earnings died down. Following the expiration of August options on Friday, only about 16.8 million calls and 12.2 million puts changed hands yesterday. On the CBOE, the single-session equity put/call volume ratio plunged to 0.55 amid lower volume. The 10-day moving average ticked lower to 0.64 as a result.
But earnings season isn’t completely over, as options traders are well aware. Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) will report this Thursday, and call volume is heavy ahead of the report. Meanwhile, Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) saw a bump in call activity on news of ad streaming between shows. Finally, semiconductor design shop Flex (NASDAQ:FLEX) came out of nowhere with a flood of put volume.
Let’s take a closer look:
While I do not hold the shares, I’m a bull on Alibaba stock. And I’m apparently not the only one. BABA stock rebounded sharply off support near $170 this past week, and options traders took the opportunity to chase the shares higher. What’s more, Alibaba is slated to report earnings this Thursday, driving increased speculation ahead of the event.
Yesterday, BABA saw more than 328,000 contracts change hands. Calls were the most popular by far, snapping up 70% of yesterday’s volume. Bullish sentiment is readily apparent in BABA stock’s weekly August 24 options series. The put/call open interest ratio for this series comes in at 0.63, with calls nearly twice as popular as puts.
Aug. 24 implied volatility is pricing in a nearly 6% move for BABA stock following earnings. This puts the upper bound at about $186 and the lower near $165. Not surprisingly, peak Aug. 24 call OI rests at $182.50 and with peak put OI lying at $170. Both strikes give plenty of room for returns following BABA stock’s earnings reaction.
Netflix upset quite a few subscribers yesterday when it began testing ad rolls for original content between episodes. The backlash prompted this response from Netflix: “We are testing whether surfacing recommendations between episodes helps members discover stories they will enjoy faster. It is important to note that a member is able to skip a video preview at any time if they are not interested.”
While subs were not happy with the move, investors appreciated the potential revenue stream of such a move. NFLX stock rose nearly 3.5% on the day, and call option volume saw a resurgence.
Specifically, potentially bullish calls made up 63% of the more than 245,000 contracts traded on NFLX on Monday. Still, yesterday’s activity was a drop in the bucket for bulls. Puts remain the most popular options among NFLX short-term speculators, as the September put/call OI ratio comes in at 1.10. With NFLX stock down sharply since its July 16 earnings report, it could take some time for bulls to fully come back into the fold.
Like many of you, Flex was a name I thought I had never heard before it appeared on today’s most active options listing. But the company’s former name, Flextronics (back in 2015), probably rings more than a few bells. This year has not been kind to FLEX, with the shares plunging more than 43% from their January highs. Earnings reports have failed to live up to expectations, and FLEX stock has suffered as a result.
Recently, FLEX stock pulled back to long-term support in the $13.50 region. The shares appeared to hold that area on Monday, and have started to move higher once again. This is where yesterday’s options activity comes in.
Volume rocketed to 129,910 contracts yesterday, coming in at more than 47 times FLEX’s daily average. What’s more, puts made up 98% of this activity. Checking with Trade-Alert.com, I found that nearly all of this activity was centered at the September $13.50 put strike. And, nearly all of that activity was summed up with one block trade.
At about 10 a.m. Eastern yesterday, a block of 120,000 September $13.50 put contracts traded at the mid-price of 27 cents, or $27 per contract. That’s a $3.24 million position controlling 12 million FLEX shares, or about 2.5% of the company’s total float.
A closer looks indicates that these puts were bought to open, as implied volatility rose following the trade. Judging from this information alone, there are two potential possibilities: The trader is quite bearish on FLEX and expects a reversal, or the trader recently bought 12 million FLEX shares and is looking to protect their investment. Given FLEX’s reaction the last time the shares dipped this low, I’m betting on the latter.
As of this writing, Joseph Hargett did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.