Cusick's Corner Equities and commodities bounced into the afternoon but I'm skeptical of this move with the Buck firming and the Euro unable to break out with the market. Now the crude run is more of a fearful response to the wildfires in Canada that may cause a potential slowdown in oil sands-derived crude production. The dollar move is more impressive especially after the Fed's notes, which at first read look to have flagged a potential "sell the buck trade". That did not transpire and the dollar is still up, which if the current inverse relationship of the dollar and equities still stands, does not bode well for the market. If the claims data pre-market comes in worse than expected and housing misses after the open, we could be having a potentially volatile expiration Thursday. Stock market averages finished with gains Wednesday. Some of the energy-related names, including Dow components Chevron Texaco (CVX) and Exxon Mobile (XOM), gathered some momentum in morning trading after bullish inventory data helped fuel a rally in oil prices. Crude gained $2.72 to $99.63 per barrel. Metals were also bid. Gold gained $14.5 to $1,494.5 an ounce and silver seized $1.59 to $35.08. Meanwhile, positive earnings from Dell Computer (DELL) helped lift the tech-heavy NASDAQ into midday and the minutes from the May FOMC policy meeting came into focus Wednesday afternoon. The minutes indicated that some Fed officials are beginning to lean towards rate hikes, but there were no real surprises or bombshells in the text. Consequently, the Dow Jones Industrial Average held firm into the closing bell and added 80 points on the session. The NASDAQ added 31.8.Bullish Aeropostale (ARO) saw interesting pre-earnings action today. The apparel retailer is due to release its profit report Thursday afternoon. Shares gained 30 cents to $21.45 today with help from a positive earnings release from peer Abercrombie and Fitch (ANF). Meanwhile, options volume in Aeropostale jumped to 8X the average daily. 19,000 calls and 13,000 puts traded in the name. The top trade of the day was part of a combination play, in which the investor bought 10,000 July 23 calls at 75 cents and sold 10,000 July 19 puts at 40 cents. This risk-reversal, for a net debit of 35 cents, was not a straight bullish bet. It was tied to block of 545,000 shares at $21.41. Still, the large trade was opening and seems to reflect expectations for a big move in ARO, with earnings perhaps serving as a catalyst for increased volatility. Bullish trading was also seen in Hershey's (HSY), Q-Logic (QLGC), and Officemax (OMX).Bearish Put volume picked up in Cirrus Logic (CRUS) today. Shares finished the session down 11 cents to $15.88 and total options activity included 13,000 puts and 2,890 call options. June 17 puts were the most actives. 3,785 traded and, with 77 percent trading at the ask, it appears that buyers were driving the action in these in-the-money puts. May 18, June 18, June 19, September 17, and September 16 puts also saw increasing volume predominantly trading at the ask. There was no news to explain the increased put activity in the chipmaker. Shares have not performed well lately. After hitting a 52-week high of $25.48 in mid-February, CRUS has been under pressure and has given up 37.7 percent since that time. Today's options order flow seems to reflect expectations for additional losses in CRUS in the months ahead. Bearish flow also surfaced in Eagle Bulk Shipping (EGLE), Yongye International (YONG), and Clorox (CLX).Index Trading Trading volume is picking up in the index market due to the expiration. Since many cash-settled indexes cease trading on the Thursday before expiration, volume often picks up midweek. Today, for example, 811,000 calls and 801,000 puts traded across the S&P 500 Index (.SPX), S&P 100 Index (.OEX) and other cash indexes, which is 1.5X the recent average daily volume for the index market, according to Trade Alert data. The S&P 500 finished with an 11.7 point gain, to 1,340.68, and the CBOE Volatility Index (.VIX) slipped 1.32 points to 16.23. Meanwhile, the top index options trades of the day were blocks of VIX June 24 puts traded at the $6.40 and $6.50 asking price, which appear to be buyer-initiated and bets that VIX might continue to fall. At the end of the day, 32,000 VIX June 24 puts had traded. SPX May 1,350 puts were the most active index contracts. 39,000 changed hands.ETF Action iShares Japan Fund (EWJ) added 8 cents to $10.27 and options volume in the ETF hit 3X the average daily. 15,000 calls and 46,000 puts traded in EWJ today. June 10 puts, which are now 27 cents out-of-the-money with 29 days of life remaining, were the most actives. 42,500 traded. Most traded on the bid, including a 14,000 contract block at 16 cents. Open interest in the EWJ June 10 put is 153,267 and the largest position in the name. Some investors might be closing out bearish positions or hedges in these puts, as shares continue to rebound from the sell-off that sent stocks in Tokyo sharply lower in the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami and Nuke crisis.
updated May 18, 2011
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