With expiration a little less than two weeks away, there's not much of reason for options traders to hold on to their August positions unless they're playing an earnings announcement or takeover.
And, it seems, with the market not showing many positives today, traders weren't eager to jump in on those either. One retail brokerage options trader was planted near the phone like a jilted schoolgirl, waiting, just waiting for it to ring. It took 15 minutes after the opening bell for the first order to dribble in.
But don't mistake the quiet for indifference. Traders are watching, closely. "It's as quiet as I can remember," said
Salomon Smith Barney
strategist Kevin Murphy. "People are still a little nervous; I think they're waiting for a move to react."
options strategist Rod Jamieson saw much of the same, which is to say, not much trading. "Our guys are clamming up," he said. "We see that more so when we do down."
The sign that the traders are actually at their desks and not finishing a big breakfast in the Caribbean can be found in the drug group today. "The drug has really snapped back today," Murphy said. The American Stock Exchange Drug Index lost almost 6% between July 30 and Aug. 7 before rebounding today.
Call buyers made early moves on
in the at-the-money or slightly out-of-the-money strike prices. As Pfizer climbed almost 1 1/2 early on to 105, traders pushed volume on the September 105 calls to 1,626. That play cost 5 ($500), up 7/8 ($87.50).
Warner-Lambert action was similar. The stock climbed 1 1/4 by midday, to 72 7/8, and volume on the September 75 calls hit 1,600. The price of the contract only moved 1/8 ($12.50) to 3 1/8 ($312.50).
was another of the Big Pharm fraternity to enjoy a strong session. Its shares were up 3 3/16 to 127 1/16, but its options didn't show the same kind of pop as the sector's other big players. The August 125 calls rose 1 3/8 ($137.50) to 3 5/8 ($362.50) on volume of 350.
told its brokers today that
would be lowering prices of
Mach 3 razor, the company's linchpin new product.
Paul Foster of
said that if Wal-Mart moves, other major chains can't be far behind and it could slice into Gilette's revenue projections on the new razor.
"The volatility on Gilette is normally 28; today it's 36," he said. "And people are buying puts." Big in-the-money put volume showed up early in the stock -- which was down 7/8 to 49 13/16. The August 50 puts traded 1,100 contracts and the September 55s posted volume of 2,000.
Outside of that group, traders were keeping a close eye on
, everyone's favorite bank takeover target.
Even as the stock was struggling and down more than 2 to around 121 near midday, call premiums were "holding up," according to one New York trader. The August 125 calls weren't trading heavily but there wasn't a fire sale on them either, an important sign to takeover speculators. The New York bank's options typically trade at a 32 volatility but were bouncing around 40 today, according to Jamieson. Volatility is a key component of options pricing and the higher numbers kept the price of the calls around 2 ($200) halfway through the session. At one point late this morning, the calls were were trading between 1 13/16 and 2 1/16, a range one New York options trader called "a little juicy."