has been clamoring for a breakup of
RJR Nabisco Holdings
But with a proxy deadline set for March 15 to decide some of the tobacco and food conglomerate's future, options players are chasing the potential at full throttle. Icahn's group controls almost 8% of the company and has become the leading activist hoping to separate the liability of the tobacco business from the potential of the food operations.
Yet on a day when the tech powers that have driven the bull market --
-- are getting smoked, RJR is catching the eye of investors looking for some value.
"People are speculating that the parts are worth more than the whole," says Lillian Seidman of the Seidman-Skupp options team at
Miller Tabak Hirsch
. Seidman says she began staking out a position on Friday and that she's seen investors' interest in RJR calls increasing as the March 15 deadline approaches.
"The options have gotten a little expensive. I expect the premiums to stay high," Seidman says. "A lot of people are taking shots. You're going to see call buying."
Today that call buying was centered on the March 30 calls, where premium rose against a stock price that fell 1/8 to 27 7/16 halfway through the session. The March 30s traded almost 800 contracts by midday as the premium was jacked up 1/8 ($12.50) to 7/16 ($43.75). Today, however, wasn't the first day of popularity for the March 30 calls. Open interest stood at more than 13,000 contracts at today's open.
Activity also was scattered among the April 25 and 30 calls, each of which locked in triple-digit volume numbers today.
Put buyers are storming the walls of the old tech powers.
Dell was down 1 1/8 to 79, and put buyers were snapping up the March 75 puts. Volume at that strike exceeded 2,300 contracts and rose in value 1/8 ($12.50) to 2 3/4 ($275).
Intel was on the receiving end of an old-fashioned whuppin' as well. Downgraded by
Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette
, the chip maker's shares plunged a quick 7 13/16 to 119 15/16.
As a result of that action, Intel's puts were crackling. The March 120 put price ran up 3 ($300) to 5 1/4 ($525) on volume of 5,000 contracts, and the March 115 price spiked 1 15/16 ($193.75) to 3 3/8 ($337.50) on traffic of almost 6,000 contracts.
"There's still a lot of negative momentum out there. People are using collars on Dell and buying puts on some others," said one New York trader.