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After a pre-St. Valentine's Day Massacre on Friday,


(DELL) - Get Free Report

options picked up on pre-earnings momentum this morning as the box maker's shares rebounded early.

Dell call traffic was among few significant volume situations today, as its at-the-money options were kept busy by speculators playing its after-the-close earnings announcement today. Yet, all the action did little to juice the premiums of Dell options, primarily because of Friday's February options expiration.

"In the last week before expiration, the prices start to decay," said Tom Burnett at

Wall St. Access

, a New York discount brokerage. "If the at-the-money straddle was $10 on Friday, it's going to go down as much as 15% every day closer to expiration."

Burnett said it was important for Dell to hold the 89 level it closed at Friday, capping a day when it fell more than 11%.

As morning turned into afternoon, enthusiasm for Dell began to wane. The stock was up 5/8 to 90 1/2 at midday, and the February 90 options seemed to be the destination of choice for options players.

The February 90 calls traded more than 3,000 contracts between 4 1/2 ($450) and 6 5/8 ($662.50), while the corresponding put volume reached more than 5,600 and was trading at 3 7/8 ($387.50) halfway though the session. Both the put and the call premiums on the February 90 options were down on the day.

"It's all the usual volatility and earnings players," said one New York-based institutional options trader, describing the short-term traders who stake out positions early in the day to capitalize on which way earnings expectations drag the stock.

The February 95 calls traded more than 4,500 contracts, some of which came from the early enthusiasm for the stock or from call-sellers who were hoping to take in some premium safely if Dell didn't pop $5 on the day. Those calls were trading for 2 3/4 ($275), down 1/4 ($25).

Analysts are expecting earnings of 31 cents a share for Dell. From the look of options trading, some traders aren't sure what to expect.

Options action in



-- also set to announce earnings tonight -- seems more definitive, at least in terms of price movement. The company's shares were down 3 to 73 7/16 at midday, but put-players were clearly beneficiaries of earnings plays.

The February 70 puts traded almost 700 contracts and rose 3/8 ($37.50) to 1 3/8 ($137.50), while the February 80 calls traded 1,700 contracts and lost 11/16 ($68.75) to hit 1 1/16 ($106.25).

The consensus estimate for H-P's earnings is 83 cents a share.

Someone is still bullish on the future of open-outcry options business. Today, a seat on the

American Stock Exchange

was sold for a record $660,000. The previous record was set just a month ago, when a seat changed hands for $575,000 on Jan. 6.