It once was a company that could seemingly do no wrong for its shareholders. Its stock's gains fattened their brokerage accounts and fixed on their mouths greedy grins. This year, however, has been a different story for those shareholders -- the
Today, Lucent's stock is trading around levels it last saw in early-1998, as its litany of woes now seems endless. On Monday morning, the company announced it had
dumped Chairman and CEO Rich McGinn and cut its earnings and sales projections for its fiscal first quarter.
The announcement about the first quarter marked the fifth quarter in a row the company has sliced its earnings forecasts. After the close Monday, the company posted fiscal fourth-quarter earnings that edged lowered Wall Street expectations.
During the the five consecutive quarters in which the company sliced its earnings forecasts, there has been no shortage of investors who have been burned by bottom-fishing, only to see the stock plummet again and again. At times, it seems Lucent doesn't have a bottom.
At midday, Lucent was up 56 cents to $22.63, off an intraday high of $23.38.
If investors want to play a bottom, they can buy a call option allowing them to speculate on the stock's potential for appreciation without committing a large amount of cash to the play.
Call buyers, who get the right but not the obligation to buy the stock at a preset price by a specified date, pay only a premium for their options contracts, a sliver of what the actual stock would cost.
If the stock collapses, they lose just the premium, but if it rises, so does the value of their call options. A little leverage can go a long way.
Still, for all the appeal of bottom-fishing with options, some analysts say that perhaps now isn't the time to jump into Lucent to wager on a turnaround.
Paul Foster of
in Chicago, who listened to the company's conference
call Monday, said this morning he didn't buy the stock Tuesday for his long-term account for a couple reasons. First off, he said, it had not fallen enough to entice him to step in. Another reason he didn't buy is the possibility that Lucent may be vulnerable to tax-loss selling pressure in November and December. Investors of both the institutional and individual variety usually sell losing stocks late in the year for tax purposes.
Lucent's stock definitely qualifies for being a tax-loss candidate. As of Monday's close, the stock was down 71% year-to-date.
And while the stock price seems skinny compared to its past levels, the uncertainty surrounding the company has made options on the stock relatively expensive. That uncertainty has fed Lucent's implied volatility, the measure of how much the market thinks a stock or index can potentially move.
That's reflected in rising options prices, even when a company's stock is falling. Typically, implied volatility rises ahead of a company's earnings announcement and usually tumbles afterward. On Tuesday, however, Lucent's implied volatility levels were holding steady, reflecting uncertainty beyond pure concerns about earnings. Lucent options' implied volatility late Tuesday morning stood at 70 for the November 25 options, while for the November 22 1/2 options it was 72-73, Foster said.
Optionswise Tuesday, the November 22 1/2 calls were seeing a good amount of interest, particularly on the
American Stock Exchange
, where more than 2,000 contracts have traded. The calls were off 1/16 ($6.25) to 1 3/4 ($175). Volume in Lucent options overall was not particularly heavy Tuesday.
Investors who lack patience ("It ain't going to be one of these quick turnarounds, with the stock back up to 70 in a year," Foster said.) may not want to dabble in Lucent just yet.
Options Clearing Corporation
said that the nation's five options exchanges set a new daily volume record of 4,877,338 contracts on Friday, breaking the previous record of 4,812,712 contracts set on April 14.
Earlier this month, the
Options Industry Council
said that through Sept. 30, year-to-date equity options volume at the nation's options exchanges totaled 484,979,728 contracts, surpassing the total annual volume record of 444.8 million contracts, which was set in 1999.