7 Stocks With Unusual Options Activity

by: Brian Gorban

When buying a stock, I've found historically that looking at options volume is a great indicator for one simple reason: It provides fantastic leverage for investors. Each contract allows an investor the right to buy (a call contract) or right to sell (a put contact) 100 shares, meaning if a stock currently costs $20/share, but the call premium is only $1, this gives the investor 20-to-1 leverage. Therefore, if I'm an investor and extremely confident about an upcoming earnings report, related news event, etc. I'd look to the company's options rather than just buying the common stock outright as I described here. These companies below had options volume that caught my eye on December 8.

McMoRan Exploration Co. (MMR), through its subsidiary, McMoRan Oil & Gas LLC, engages in the exploration, development, and production of oil and natural gas offshore in the Gulf of Mexico and onshore in the Gulf Coast area of the United States. On Dec. 8, there was very abnormal volume on the Feb 16 calls trading well over 18,000 contracts against only 1,058 in open interest. It wasn't necessarily bullish though as they weren't being bought aggressively and moreover the valuations don't look pretty with over a 14x EV/EBITDA, almost 5x P/S, and continuing to burn a lot of cash. I'd stay away from MMR.

Clearwire Corporation (CLWR) provides wireless broadband services. There was abnormally strong volume with the Jun 1 puts trading 10,257 contracts against only 162 in open interest indicating new positions being made. It looks like this was actually bullish as they were going at the bid price of $.20 meaning the investors don't belive that CLWR will be less than $.80 come June. I wrote about CLWR recently here, and still feel it can make for a nice speculative buy.

MEMC Electronic Materials (WFR), Inc. engages in the development, manufacture, and sale of silicon wafers for the semiconductor industry worldwide. There was very strong volume in the Dec 7 puts trading over 1,300 contracts against only 255 in open interest. The company was down sharply on the open as it pre-announced bad upcoming earnings, but ended the day unchanged which was encouraging. I'd rather invest in some of these semiconductor names mentioned here, but WFR looks to have some value now at a 7x forward P/E, .7x PEG and EV/S, .3x P/S, and .4x P/B. I'd call this a very specualtive value buy on the heels of this disappointing announcement combined with favorable valuations.

Affymax, Inc. (AFFY), a bio-pharmaceutical company, engages in the development of drugs for the treatment of serious and life-threatening conditions. The company shot up almost 40% on favorable FDA news regarding its anemia drug, and the options activity was showing strong activity in the Dec 9 calls with over 3,300 changing hands against 764 in open interest. These were actually moving sharply lower, showing strong belief that AFFY will not close above $9 come Dec. 17. I believe that is a valid argument as today's massive volume looked to be a lot of short covering and it will take some time for this drug to generate profits.

Itau Unibanco Holding S.A. (ITUB) provides various commercial, corporate, and investment banking services to individuals, and small and middle-market companies in Brazil and internationally. There was a very large 2,505 in Jun 17 puts changing hands against only 37 in open interest. At first, this seems very bearish, however they were sold near the bid price meaning most likely an investor strongly believes that $17 is the floor price for ITUB. This financial firm, like all others, has been volatile, but Brazil is still performing relatively well and ITUB is one of the country's best banks. This is a nice way to build a position in ITUB.

Walgreen Co. (WAG), together with its subsidiaries, operates a chain of drugstores in the United States. There was very strong activity in the Jan 31 calls trading just over 15,000 contracts against only 870 in open interest and just over 16,000 Jan 28 puts changing hands. Most likely, due to the very similar trading volume, this is a large investor looking to essentially lock gains and performing this trade for tax reasons. WAG as a whole though looks attractively priced at just a trailing and forward 11x P/E, .4x P/S and EV/S, 6x EV/EBITDA, and consistently growing 2.6% dividend yield. I'd simply go long the stock and benefit from the nice dividend and valuations.

Seadrill Limited (SDRL), an offshore drilling contractor, provides offshore drilling services to the oil and gas industries worldwide. There was very strong activity in the Jan 34 calls trading over 2,100 contracts against only 17 in open interest. The company just went ex on Dec. 8 so seems to be related to the sizeable dividend rather than an indication of bullishness or bearishness.

Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.