U.S. stock futures are trading broadly lower this morning. In fact, the Dow is down by about 150 points in pre-market trading, driven by Italian political drama.
Specifically, another Italian election is likely to take place within a few months. What’s more, said election could drive the eurozone’s third-largest economy toward ditching the euro.
Against this rising uncertainty, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average are down 0.82%. S&P 500 futures have fallen 0.85% and Nasdaq-100 futures have shed 0.7%.
In options activity, volume remained just below average on Friday. Traders seemed unwilling to take a stance ahead of the long Memorial Day weekend. Overall, about 16.9 million calls and 13.7 million puts changed hands on the session. On the CBOE, the single-session equity put/call volume ratio dipped to 0.61. The 10-day moving average held at 0.60.
Options traders zeroed in on Raymond James analyst Aaron Kessler’s upgraded position on Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NYSE:BABA). Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMD) was also front and center as trader rushed to take profits ahead of expiration. Finally, Qualcomm, Inc. (NASDAQ:QCOM) was flooded with call traders looking to capture an upcoming dividend.
Let’s take a closer look:
Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (BABA)
Raymond James analyst Aaron Kessler upgraded BABA stock to “strong buy” and lifted his price target to $300 — a 51% premium to Thursday’s close. According to Kessler, “We expect continued robust China e-commerce growth with Alibaba as the biggest winner.” He also said that Alibaba probably has about 70% market share in China’s e-commerce market.
The news sparked a flurry of all activity on BABA stock. Volume surged to 317,000 contracts, or nearly 1.5 times the stock’s daily average. Calls gobbled up 72% of the day’s take.
There is plenty of room for more bullish sentiment in BABA’s short-term outlook. Currently, the June put/call open interest ratio rests at 0.93, with puts in near parity with calls.
BABA stock is on the verge of breaking back above the psychologically important $200 level. If that happens, look for another flood of call volume later this week.
Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (AMD)
AMD has made quite a name for itself among millennial investors. In fact, AMD is among the most popular holdings on RobinHood, a fee-free trading app that went viral with millennials late last year.
This popularity is a double-edged sword for AMD, increasing activity on the shares and boosting volatility. Friday’s options activity may have been a sign of that. Volume topped 214,000 contracts, with calls making up 67% of the overall take.
Most interestingly, however, it was the weekly May 25 $13.50 call strike that saw the most activity. Trade-Alert.com reports that more than 33,000 contracts traded at the expiring May 25 $13.50 call on Friday.
Activity was split down the middle between the bid and the ask price, indicating that AMD is popular among both bulls and bears among millennial investors. Traders were clearly rushing to take profits or avoid having AMD stock called away as the shares closed north of $13.50 on the day.
Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM)
Qualcomm is expected to meet this week with antitrust regulators in China. The company is pushing to gain approval for it’s $44 billion acquisition of NXP Semiconductors NV (NASDAQ:NXPI). According to Reuters, Qualcomm already has approval from eight of the nine required global regulators, with China the lone holdout.
While that may have been enough to drive QCOM options volume, the stock trades ex-dividend today, with the record date this Wednesday. In other words, holders of QCOM stock by the close of trading on Tuesday are eligible for a quarterly dividend of 62 cents per share, payable on June 20.
As such, dividend capture was the most likely cause of Friday’s surge in QCOM call volume.
Total options volume rose to well over 209,000 contracts, more than quintupling QCOM’s daily average. Calls accounted for nearly all of the activity, coming in at 96%. The most active strike was the in-the-money June $52.50 strike, with volume of more than 60,000 contracts.
As of this writing, Joseph Hargett held no positions on any of the aforementioned securities.
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