As the busiest part of earnings season gets under way, option traders will be looking to take advantage of any surprise, but for the moment news away from the corporate-profits front was driving some of the most active trading. Altria Group ( MO) had put-sellers and call-buyers after the Supreme Court said the government can't pursue a $280 billion penalty from tobacco companies on claims they misled the public about the dangers of smoking. For instance, Altria's October 75 calls have traded 30,000 times. The buyers of these calls are expecting shares of Altria to close above $75 by the time the options expire, which is this Friday. The calls were higher by 65 cents. The October 80 calls have traded 16,000 contracts, while the October 70 puts have traded 35,000 times. The seller of the puts doesn't foresee Altria trading below $70 by the expiration. The puts were lower by $1.50 and were recently trading at 15 cents. The January 80 calls have traded 16,600 times. Altria stock was higher by $4.31, or 6.1%, to $74.97. Yahoo! ( YHOO) had bullish option activity ahead of its earnings release Tuesday. The October 35 calls had more than 21,500 contracts trade. The calls have almost doubled in price ahead of the earnings. Also, the January 35 calls have traded 5,500 times, and the April 35 calls have traded 5,600 contracts. Yahoo's stock was up 48 cents, or 1.4%, to $34. Apple Computer ( AAPL) had the October 50 puts trade 12,700 times. Here, an investor might have sold the puts to collect some income, or a buyer might have picked them up as a speculation play. With Apple shares trading at $53.66, the stock would have to trade below $50 a share in order to be in the money.
As oil traded higher with Tropical Storm Wilma churning in the Caribbean, speculators were buying the October 105 calls in Valero Energy ( VLO), which had more than 6,700 contracts trade. The calls were higher by 50 cents. The calls are out of the money with only four days left to expiration, but because oil-related stocks have been volatile, traders tend to price the options higher to anticipate large moves in underlying shares. Valero was up $1.96, or 1.9%, to $103.23. The CBOE Market Volatility Index (VIX), which is based on the implied volatility of the S&P 500 options and is used as a gauge for fear in the market, was recently up 0.3% to 14.92. The CBOE Nasdaq Volatility Index, a measure of the implied volatility of the Nasdaq 100, was gaining 2% to 16.55.