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Cars.com Call Options Hot After GM Announcement

Karee Venema

Cars.com Inc (NYSE:CARS) stock is trading up 7% at $10.70, after the online auto retailer said its subsidiary, Dealer Inspire, inked an OEM deal with General Motors (GM) to serve as the website provider in the carmaker's U.S. dealerships. The jolt higher has sparked a flood of activity in CARS stock's options pits, with most of the action occurring at the hands of bullish traders.

With less than two hours left in today's trading, roughly 5,000 calls have changed hands on CARS, compared to fewer than 350 puts. This is 23 times what's typically seen at this point in the session, with speculators targeting the front-month series. Specifically, the September 10 and 12.50 calls are most active, and it looks like traders may be buying to open the options to bet on more upside through expiration at the close next Friday, Sept. 20.

That September 10 strike has been popular among put traders, too, and is home to peak front-month put open interest. Data from the major options exchanges points to sell-to-open activity here, though, with put writers betting on Cars.com stock holding above $10 through expiration. Unlike a long call where risk is capped at the premium paid and profit is theoretically unlimited, losses from a short put can be quite substantial on a sharp move lower, while the most the trader stands to make is the initial premium collected.

There's a bullish bias toward CARS outside of the options pits, as well, with four of six analysts calling the stock a "buy," and not a single "sell" rating to be found. Plus, the average 12-month price target of $14.75 is a 39.3% premium to current trading levels.

Looking at the charts, though, reveals the equity's long-term technical struggles. Cars.com shares are down 60% year-over-year, and hit a record low of $8.23 just three weeks ago on Aug. 23. Plus, today's rally is stalling out around $11, near an early August bear gap. A shift in sentiment amid these longer-term troubles leaves CARS vulnerable to bigger losses.

daily cars stock price chart on sept 13