Alexander Valtsev
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Three Stocks That Have Recently Seen Unusual Activity In Their Options

I frequently check unusual options to see what tail trade I can get myself on. Here is what the most recent data from Yahoo Finance looks like:

(Source: Yahoo Finance)

Let us examine the three selected stocks with external tools. As you can see, the three selected stocks are First Solar (FSLR), Texas Instruments (TXN), and VanEck Vectors Russia ETF (RSX). I specifically chose these stocks because their options have shown unusually high volume coupled with a relative small options market around them (on contrary, major ETFs get high volumes in their options quite frequently, so there is nothing special about that). The table is valid as of August 10, 2016.

(1) First Solar

First Solar's stock has seen a dramatic decline in its price over the last month:


The trade above shows that over 28k $40 calls expiring by the end of next week were traded on the market. It was not immediately clear whether this was a purchase or a disposal. So I looked at extra data:

(Source: TD Waterhouse)

(Source: optionistics.com)

The charts above show that the implied volatility of the calls went north on the day of the transaction (from about 40% to over 50%). I therefore think that the increase is associated with the fact that the trade was actually a purchase (i.e. market makers priced in more IV as they were selling the options). The question remains whether this was an actual purchase of calls or it was simply a hedging transaction (e.g. a big player shorted stock, so he wanted to hedge the upside with calls). On the other hand, it may very well be a case when a big fund is expecting a major bullish catalyst for the stock next week. Because the stock had already tanked by the time this trade was made, I think it is unlikely that the investor actually shorted the stock at a low. Hence I am thinking about buying the at-the-money calls for cents.

(2) Texas Instruments

Texas Instruments has seen a big auction around its $70 puts expiring in October 2016 (note that the stock is currently trading at exactly the same price). Again, there is not enough data from the initial screen to decide what sort of transaction it was. So I looked elsewhere:

(Source: TD Waterhouse)

(Source: optionistics.com)

There was a big spike in option volume and open interest over the last couple of days. The price of the option remained pretty much unchained. Hence, the above graphs really do not give a hint. What does, however, is the stock chart:

As you can see, the stock had a big rally after the company had reported Q2 data. The price does not seem to be moving anywhere higher than the initial surge level. It looks to me like someone is betting on the downward movement. It may be, of course, that the investor hedged his long exposure but that seems unlikely for two reasons: (1) I do not see any high volume in out-of-money calls (typically, one would sell calls to offset the price of the insurance) and (2) investors typically do not buy at-the-money puts for hedging (it is too expensive an insurance). Selling the puts is also not a likely outcome: it would be unwise to sell puts at 52-week highs, especially those expiring a few months from now. Moreover, the theoretical value of the puts is currently higher than the market price (and has been so for the last two weeks). Hence, I conclude that this is a downward bet.

(3) VanEck Vectors Russia ETF

There has been a significant increase in the volume of at-the-money puts expiring in mid-September. Let us look at extra data:

(Source: TD Waterhouse)

(Source: optionistics.com)

The volume is primarily situated in this week's data (look at two yellow spikes). Again, it does not make sense that anyone would sell the puts at historical lows for the options. Besides, the ETF is also showing 52-week highs:

(Source: Yahoo Finance)  

Fundamentally, the Russian market may be affected by the upcoming elections into Duma (i.e. the Parliament), which will be held in mid-September. It is hard to predict how the elections will affect the Russian stock market. Either way, I am positive that the investors are betting on a swift downside move in the ETF. The put buyers only need about a 2% downside move to break-even. Keep that in mind when you evaluate unusual options. 

Overall, I think I believe more in the two put trades. Both stocks are currently at the 52-week high, while the option prices are at their historical lows. In addition, there seems to be a fundamental catalyst for the Russian ETF, while the Texas Instruments' expected price move is likely to be based on the technical picture.