Cheap bullish bets were the order of the day Thursday in the

options pit, ahead of this evening's earnings from

Dell

(DELL) - Get Report

and Friday's

expiration session.

Some options pros said there was some notable

out-of-the-money

call buying in

Intel

(INTC) - Get Report

and

Compaq

(CPQ)

. Traders are taking a cheap shot, so to speak, by buying out-of-the-money calls for just a little bit of premium, hoping that favorable earnings from Dell will juice up the stocks of Intel and Compaq enough to make the bets pay off.

By buying call options, traders wager that the underlying securities will rise.

Dell is slated to post earnings after the close. The

First Call/Thomson Financial

consensus estimate calls for earnings of 19 cents a share. Shares of Dell rose $1.94, or 8.5%, to $24.88.

Intel and Compaq rallied alongside Dell, which said earlier Thursday it would

slash 1,700 jobs. Intel advanced $1.88, or 5.5%, to $36, while Compaq added $1.67, or 7.4%, to $24.39, amid a broad-based rally that pushed the

Nasdaq Composite

up some 4%.

Options trading was heavy in Intel. The February 37 1/2 calls rose 1/8 ($12.50) to 3/16 ($18.75) on the

Pacific Exchange

, on volume of nearly 16,000 contracts.

In Compaq, the February 25 calls were seeing interest. The February 25 calls were up 15 cents ($15) to 20 cents ($20), also on the P-Coast.

The Ocean

Earlier this week, someone expressed hope for

Ocean Energy's

(OEI)

prospects by taking a sizable position in the stock's call options.

On Tuesday, an investor bought 10,000 of the out-of-the-money May 22 1/2 calls. The 10,000-contract purchase represents control over 1 million shares of stock. With the calls trading a little above 1 ($100) a contract, the outlay for the position, presumably by an institutional investor, wasn't great.

There was no trading in the May 22 1/2 calls Thursday. The calls were bid at 75 cents ($75) on the CBOE.

Ocean Energy has been the subject of buyout chatter recently, one options trader said recently. However, nothing has come of the talk. Whether the investor bought the calls on speculation that the company will be taken over or is simply hopeful on the fundamentals of the crude oil and natural gas exploration company was unclear.

A call to Ocean Energy seeking comment wasn't immediately returned.

Shares of Ocean Energy are up about 6.5% year-to-date. Recently the stock has been trading near its 52-week intraday peak of $19.87. The stock fell 84 cents to $18.50 Thursday.

The play on Ocean Energy this week isn't probably earnings-related, because the company just reported fourth-quarter numbers on Jan. 25. Ocean Energy posted record fourth-quarter earnings of 46 cents a share, up from the year-earlier 26 cents. Fiscal 2000 earnings were a record also, rising to $1.31 a share from 33 cents a year earlier.

For fiscal 2001, the Houston-based company is expected to earn $2.03 a share, according to a 19-analyst First Call/Thomson Financial consensus estimate -- a 55% jump. With the stock at $18.50 Thursday morning, Ocean Energy has a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 9.1.

The Crunge

Botta Capital Management

, a large options market-making firm, has acquired the options specialist business of

RTB Derivatives

on the

Chicago Board Options Exchange

, the latest in the continuing consolidation in the options market-making business.

Terms of the deal weren't disclosed.

Last week,

Letco

, one of the nation's largest options-trading firms, said it hired investment bank

Raymond James

to help in its search for a "strategic partner."

RTB Derivatives is a designated primary market maker in options on stocks like

Qwest Communications

(Q)

,

Becton Dickinson

(BDX) - Get Report

, and

Adaptec

(ADPT) - Get Report

.

Botta has been operating four other DPM posts on the CBOE. With the completion of the RTB acquisition, which is subject to regulatory approval, Botta will have a total of 10 specialist posts across the country, making markets in nearly 300 options classes. On the CBOE, Botta will be the DPM in about 125 classes.

Robert Wasserman will join Botta and continue in his capacity as the DPM for the options classes he formerly traded as managing member of RTB Derivatives.

In addition to its operations on the CBOE, Botta also has floor operations on the

American Stock Exchange

, the P-Coast and the

Philadelphia Stock Exchange

. The firm is also a competitive market maker on the all-electronic

International Securities Exchange

.