Those looking for how people are playing the latest chapter of the
antitrust case aren't getting any clear-cut clues from the options market -- at least they weren't by midday.
Friday is the deadline for the
and the states involved in the antitrust case to give their remedy proposals to U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson. Judge Jackson earlier this month ruled that the software giant had violated state and federal antitrust laws. According to published reports, the Justice Department and most of the state attorneys general want to break the software titan into two companies.
One Chicago-based options pro said that the "play of the day is Microsoft," but noted that it doesn't look like too many people are playing just yet. He said that he anticipated that people would come in and make some short-term plays on Microsoft options, but that's not happening, at least not yet.
Shares of Microsoft were off 1 5/16 to 68 1/2.
Volume in the May and June options on Microsoft was less than robust. The heaviest traded option in those months was the out-of-the-money May 75 calls on the
Chicago Board Options Exchange
. Nearly 2,560 of the contracts have traded for around 1 ($100 per contract), down 3/8 ($37.50) at midday.
An investor could be selling the call options to collect the premium on the contracts, hoping that the option will expire out-of-the money -- thus worthless -- on the third Friday in May. Conversely, an investor could be hoping that the stock rallies from here, concluding that most of the bad news has already been priced into the stock, and that the next few weeks are going to be good for the software giant's battered stock.
Out longer, more than 2,011 contracts of the Microsoft July 65 puts have traded on the
-- volume that moved the price up 1/2 ($50) to 4 1/8 ($412.50) halfway through the day's trading.
With the dramatic swings in the market this month, options market pros have said lately that activity has quieted down as of late, with the level of speculation among market players falling off.
Options traders and strategists pointed out that the recent whopping volatility in the market was keeping plenty of buyers on the sidelines. And subsequently, there aren't that many people making big bets.
A sizable portion of the activity in the market is related to either protecting positions or selling out-of-the-money options contracts to collect premium -- betting that the options will expire worthless.
"We've had some slow days this week," said Rod Jamieson, vice president of options at
First Union Securities
in Chicago, adding that his shop was a lot busier in early April.
And while some pros noted that the Friday after an expiration is typically a slow one in the options market, Jamieson said he thinks that a lot of people are still thinking the
is going to retest its April lows.
"I think everyone's kind of afraid to step on the long side, but they don't want to short either," Jamieson said.
Despite some notable news on
, not many people were playing the stock options on the nation's fourth-largest broker.
PaineWebber, which has long been rumored as a takeover target, on Friday morning announced it is buying privately-held Nashville, Tenn.-based brokerage firm
for $620 million in cash.
While the deal gets PaineWebber an additional 900 brokers and $46 billion in assets with the deal -- to add to its stable of 7,608 brokers and $452 billion in client assets -- the speculation on its future as a target hasn't popped up today.
Many traders would have thought so, considering the "Heard on the Street" column in
The Wall Street Journal
said that PaineWebber execs no longer discount the concept that the firm will merge or be taken over as they have in the past.
As for PaineWebber options, the biggest amount of volume was in the May 45 calls, with only a paltry 83 contracts trading. Premium on the contract ran 11/16 ($68.75) to 1 7/16 ($143.75 per contract) this morning.