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Thursday’s Vital Data: Lowe’s, Target and Freeport-McMoRan

Options activity provides a look at expectations on TGT, LOW and FCX

Another salvo from China in the ongoing trade war is sinking U.S. stock futures this morning. This time it was comments from Ministry of Commerce spokesperson Gao Feng calling for the U.S. to “adjust its wrong actions” that sent stocks skidding.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average are down 0.91%, and S&P 500 futures are lower by 0.86%. Nasdaq-100 futures have lost 1.14%.

In the options pits, put volume almost eclipsed calls yesterday while overall volume settled near average levels. Specifically, about 15.4 million calls and 15.2 million puts changed hands on the session.

The pop in put demand made a big impact over at the CBOE. The single-session equity put/call volume ratio rocketed back to 0.72. Meanwhile, the 10-day moving average inched back up to 0.72.

Options traders zeroed in on earnings announcements yesterday. Lowe’s (NYSE:LOW) shares cratered after the company missed earnings estimates and lowered forward guidance. Target (NYSE:TGT) took the opposite route, rallying almost 8% after smashing expectations. Finally, Freeport-McMoRan (NYSE:FCX) fell to a five-month low amid continued selling pressure in metal stocks.

Let’s take a closer look:

Thursday's Vital Data: Lowe's, Target and Freeport-McMoRan, options trading

Lowe’s (LOW)

Lowe’s stepped up to the earnings plate yesterday morning and whiffed. The home construction giant reported earnings-per-share of $1.22 on $17.74 billion in revenue. Analysts were forecasting earnings of $1.34 on $17.7 billion revenue. Forward guidance was also disappointing with the company cutting fiscal year earnings guidance from over $6 to $5.45 – $5.65.

LOW stock fell as low as 14% before battling back to close the day down 11.8%. Over 22.7 million shares changed hands on the session marking the highest volume day since last August. The down gap has completely upended the stock’s uptrend, driving it from above all major moving averages to below in a single session. Bears now control the chart so consider all future rallies suspect.

On the options trading front, calls and puts proved equally popular on the day. Total activity zoomed to 1,212% of the average daily volume, with 116,402 contracts traded. Calls accounted for 51% of the tally.

Heading into the report, premiums were forecasting a move of $4.93 or 4.4%. That makes the actual gap a massive outlier bringing untold pain to traders swinging short volatility trades like iron condors into the number. By day’s end, implied volatility fell to 26% landing it at the 29th percentile of its one-year range.

Target (TGT)

Target shared the spotlight with Lowe’s Wednesday morning. Unlike the latter, though, Target was able to deliver. For the first quarter, the company earned $1.53 per share, handily beating analyst calls for $1.43. Revenue also came in ahead of expectations at $17.62 billion versus $17.5 billion.

Both measures marked robust growth from the same quarter last year. While sales jumped 5%, earnings grew by 15.9%. Yesterday’s buying binge erased much of what was lost during the stock’s recent slide. TGT stock closed the session up 7.8% amid heavy volume. Overhead resistance at $78.50 ultimately halted the rally. I suggest waiting for a break above this level before deploying bullish trades.

On the options trading front, traders aggressively chased calls all day. Activity swelled to 458% of the average daily volume, with 129,630 total contracts traded; 69% of the trading came from call options alone.

Traders were looking for a move of $3.94 or 5.5% ahead of the report, so chalk up the 7.8% pop as a win for volatility buyers. Implied volatility sank to 24% or the 19th percentile of its one-year range. Premiums are now pricing in daily moves of $1.18 or 1.5%.

Freeport-McMoran (FCX)

Metal and mining stocks have been sinking like a stone, and Freeport-McMoran might as well be the poster child. Since peaking last month at $14.68, FCX stock has cratered 31%, placing it a stone’s throw from multi-year lows. The news was light this week, but that didn’t prevent a surge in options activity landing the company on the leaderboard.

Here’s a quick technical analysis take. Its price trend is ugly and sits beneath all moving averages. With multiple resistance zones overhead, rallies are suspect. Volume patterns favor sellers with multiple distribution days over the past month showing institutions are net sellers. The next major support zone looms at $9.70, so consider that the first downside target.

On the options trading front, traders favored calls despite the day’s thrashing. Activity ramped to 172% of the average daily volume, with 81,899 contracts traded. Calls claimed 83% of the total.

The uptick in demand drove implied volatility higher on the day to 45%, placing it at the 32nd percentile of its one-year range. Premiums are now baking in daily moves of 29 cents or 2.9%.

As of this writing, Tyler Craig didn’t hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities. Check out his recently released Bear Market Survival Guide to learn how to defend your portfolio against market volatility.

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