Stocks are set to finish mixed after a seesaw session Tuesday. The underlying tone of trading was positive at the onset after European equity markets rallied around hopes for a Greek debt deal. However, sellers surfaced in mid-morning trading after data showed an index of Consumer Confidence falling to only 61.1 in January, down from 64.8 the month before and well below economist estimates of 67.0. Separately, Chicago PMI, a gauge of manufacturing activity, fell to 60.2 in January, from 62.2 last month and below expectations of 62.8. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell into negative territory on the news and, at its worst levels, was down 87 points. However, the Dow had recaptured most of its loss in the second half of trading and is down just 20 points. The NASDAQ has moved into the green and is up 3.7 points. With thirty minutes left to trade, CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX) is up .04 to 19.44. Trading in the options market is uninspired. 7.6 million calls and 5.5 million puts traded across the nine exchanges so far.
BP is seeing relative strength and high volume today. The stock is up 59 cents to $44.73 on volume of 6.3 million shares, which is almost 3X the typical volume. Meanwhile, 48,000 calls and 9,360 puts traded on the oil giant. The top trades are part of a spread, in which the strategist apparently sold 4,500 February 46 calls for 46 cents and bought 4500 March 46 calls at 99 cents. The timespread,, for a 53-cent debit, might be bet that shares will hold below $46 (~2.8%) through the Feb expiration (17 days) and then rally though mid-March. However, open interest is sufficient to cover, so it might be rolling or closing activity. Weekly 45, Feb 45, and Mar 50 calls on BP are actively traded as well and implied volatility is up 5.5 percent to 29. Bullish trading in BP comes ahead of a Feb 7 earnings release.
The top options trade so far today is in BofA (NYSE:BAC), which is up 7 cents to $7.14, after one investor bought 62,500 April 8 calls on the stock for 28 cents per contract. The hefty trade is tied to 2 million shares at $7.07 and looks opening. BAC is up 28.4 percent year-to-date and April 8 calls on the stock are now 12 percent OTM with 80 days of life remaining and a delta of .33.
Covanta (NYSE:CVA) is flat at $14.16 and one investor buys 4,500 Mar 12.5 puts on the stock for 15 cents per contract. It's possibly closing. 6,015 traded against 6,149 in open interest. Shares of the Fairfield, NJ waste management company have been grinding 8.6 percent higher off the 52-week lows seen on 12/21. Today's put buyer might be exiting the position today, rather than run the risk of holding the short puts through a Feb 8 earnings release.
Implied volatility Mover
The top equity options trade so far today is in Pfizer (NYSE:PFE). Shares are down 34 cents to $21.24 and one of 22 Dow stocks trading lower after the pharmaceutical giant posted better-than-expected fourth quarter earnings and revs, but then guided estimates lower for the 2012 fiscal year. Morning options trades on the stock include 16,000 January 22.5 calls, sold at $1.04 per contract, and possibly a liquidating trade on the heels of the disappointing earnings news. Overall, trading in PFE is brisk. 61,000 calls and 21,000 puts traded. Meanwhile, implied volatility in the options on the stock is down 13.5 percent and probing the 52-week lows of 17.3 seen in late-May 2011.