Option Investor

Daily Newsletter, Wednesday, 04/26/2006

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Table of Contents

  1. Market Wrap
  2. New Option Plays
  3. In Play Updates and Reviews
  4. Trader's Corner

Market Wrap

Focus on the Fed

It has been four weeks since the last Fed meeting but with only nine days left before the next one the probable Fed actions are coming back into focus. The Fed Beige Book was released today showing steady growth, tightening job markets and rising inflation due to higher energy prices. The immediate result was a weakening of the equity markets and a firming in the Fed funds futures for June. Bernanke will testify before the Joint Economic Committee of Congress on Thursday and traders will be holding their breath for clues to Fed direction.

Dow Chart - Daily

Nasdaq Chart - Daily

Economic reports vied with energy earnings to capture investor attention today. The economic news grabbing the early morning headlines was the +6.1% jump in Durable Goods orders for March. This came after a +3.4% jump in February and was the largest monthly gain since May-2005. Nondefense orders jumped +14% including transportation sales but after removing those sales it was still a healthy +3.0% gain. The early year weakness where January declined -8.9% has just about been erased with the two months of strong gains. Backorders jumped +2.8% in addition to the +6.1% of new orders. This suggests the flow of orders in the pipeline is steadily increasing. Shipments were also up +3.0%.

The Durable Goods orders showed the manufacturing sector gaining strength and the afternoon Beige Book confirmed it. The Fed Beige Book showed that all areas of the country were growing steadily despite rising energy prices and commodity shortages for steel, aluminum and building materials. The Cleveland and Richmond districts showed the least growth with Atlanta calling the economic picture mixed. The report showed that home sales were cooling slightly and well within acceptable ranges. Sales of used cars improved more than new cars indicating consumers were becoming more cost conscious.

On the troubling side the labor markets for skilled workers were seen to be tightening in many markets with wage pressures rising. High energy prices were also seen to be dragging on manufacturers but were not yet pressuring profits. It is a battle but growth in the economy is offsetting those pricing pressures. However, many companies reported an inability to pass these price hikes along to consumers.

When coupled with the Beige Book the Durable Goods orders suggest corporations are finally spending some of their accumulated cash. Companies in the S&P are rumored to be sitting on huge amounts of cash. Goldman Sachs estimates nearly 9% of the value of the S&P is represented by cash. After the corporate spending boom for Y2K corporations were forced to cut costs and conserve cash as the recession gripped the country. This fueled a massive consolidation phase and a record number of stock buybacks. Now that the economy has managed to produce 11 quarters of double-digit earnings corporations are starting to relax. Equipment purchased for the Y2K change is now old and in the case of computer equipment positively antique. Consumers have enjoyed several years of strong employment and the rising equity markets brought prosperity back to those who weathered the 2001-2002 crash. Based on the Durable Goods report it appears both corporations and consumers are starting to loosen those purse strings, which had been drawn tighter than normal due to the 9/11 attacks and terrorist fears. The economy appears to be in a sweet spot commonly referred to as the Goldilocks economy. Growth is steady and is expected to be in the +4.9% range for Q1 when it is reported on Friday. Jobs are strong but not overly so to the point of inflationary wages. To illustrate just how strong and stable the economy is we only need to look at the markets. The Dow closed at a new 6-yr high on Wednesday with oil prices hovering near $75. This is nearly four times the price of crude when the recession occurred in 2001.

Oil prices are a very serious drag on any economy and it is positively amazing that GDP growth is so strong. Every dollar rise in the price of crude removes $1 billion per month from consumer pockets. Since May 2004 the price of oil has more than doubled and at today's $72 level is costing consumers $1.1 billion PER DAY more than in May 2004. This has barely dented the consumer despite the constant whining on the airwaves and in print. Consumer Confidence as reported on Tuesday was 109.6 and the highest level since 2002 when oil was $20 a barrel.

Further proof that consumers appear to be bullet proof is the +13.8% jump in New Home Sales reported today. After two months of declines the March sales surged at a monthly rate not seen in 13 years. Total sales of 1,213,000 units were still -7.2% behind the 1,304,000 rate seen in March 2005. The 1.213 million units in March were an explosion from the 1.066 million units in February. Those are annualized rates. Despite the jump in March the average units for the first quarter of 1.16 million units was a decline of -33% from Q4 and the slowest quarter since Q4-2003. Housing inventory levels slipped slightly from 6.3 months to 5.5 months but the quarterly average is near a ten year high. Still, given the doubling of gasoline prices over the last two years has failed to dampen consumer sentiment and new home shoppers were out in force.

Investor sentiment is entirely a different matter. The UBS Index of Investor Optimism dropped -16 points in April to 63 and a five-month low. January started out very bullish at 93 and has declined ever since. The January peak nearly equaled the last cycle high of 95 set back in June 2004 but remains well off the multiyear high of 108 set in Jan-2004. This represents a -42% decline in optimism since Jan-2004 and a -32% decline just since January of this year.

The remaining reports for the week are Kansas Fed survey on Thursday and a boatload of news for Friday. GDP, NAPM-NY, ECI and PMI are all released on Friday along with April Consumer Sentiment, which should mirror the Consumer Confidence numbers.

June Crude Oil Chart - 30 min

Earnings are not just flowing but flooding this week. 143 companies were scheduled to report after hours on Wednesday alone. While tech earnings have been a minefield of results with numerous implosions the overall earnings picture has been very bright. According to Thomson Financial with more than half of S&P companies already reported and earnings were up +13.3%. This is higher than the +10.4% estimates as of April-1st and the +12.1% estimates as of January 1st. The declining estimates have ceased and now they are predicting strong earnings for the rest of 2006. Currently the materials sector has beaten estimates by +18%, financials are beating estimates by +10%. Energy stocks are still the leaders posting +41% growth over the same quarter in 2005. Information technology is second at +18% and +17% for industrials. Thomson feels like the current earnings environment will see financials pull out in front in the second half as energy stocks face the tougher comparisons from the oil highs of the 2005 hurricane season. I will believe it when I see it.

Energy stocks have been taking the heat for doing so well and the three giants all report this week. Conoco reported earnings that were inline with estimates despite a refining division that was only able to manage 83% of capacity due to hurricane damage. Conoco made a profit of $3.29 billion on revenue of $47.9 billon or +6.8%. Exxon reports tomorrow and is expected to earn $9.224 billion followed by Chevron on Friday at $4.136 billion. The total profits for those three should total over $16 billion for the quarter and that is drawing fire from Congress and elected officials everywhere. Unfortunately the big dollars overshadow the facts. Exxon, the biggest US oil company and the only US company in the global top ten, has profit margins around 8.8%. Chevron is expected to come in at +7.3% and Conoco was 6.8%. This is significantly lower than profits from other major companies. Citigroup for instance posts a +25% profit margin, Microsoft 30% and Pfizer +34%. I don't think anyone would argue that exploring and producing oil in some of the harshest environments on earth and in some of the most politically unstable countries contains higher risk than developing software from the comfort of Redmond Washington. Venezuela announced this week they were going to seize oil properties that five large companies have invested $16 billion in improving over the last five years. Exxon said today they were going to increase security in Nigeria to prevent its workers from being captured and killed. Final damage estimates from the 2005 hurricanes are expected to be well over $25 billion. Over 240 platforms were destroyed.


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Operating a drilling rig in 10,000 feet of water costs $350,000 per day and the rig can be under contract for a couple years to drill out a field. When oil is discovered it takes between 5-7 years before it can be turned into gasoline in your tank. Those integrated oil companies with refineries and retail operations in the US average about 8 cents profit per gallon sold at their stations. Using the national average of $2.79 per gallon for unleaded today that 8 cents represents a 2.8% profit margin. Does 2.8% seem too high for a company that had to spend tens of billions 5-7 years ago to discover the oil. Another $10 billion or so over that period to build platforms, pipelines and production facilities. That oil is then transported to refineries, turned into gasoline and piped/trucked thousands of miles to the individual service stations that sell it. Those ground under those stations had to be purchased, prepared, buildings and islands built and staffed and constantly updated. Is this worth a 2.8% profit on each gallon?

The massive profit numbers are simply because of the massive number of gallons consumed around the world not because they are gouging customers. Oil companies don't set the price of oil. They are at the mercy of supply and demand. When prices are high they benefit and when they are low they suffer. Oil prices are set by a very vigorous open market that spans the globe. All oil prices are not the same. There are many grades of oil from a gooey tar like substance with many impurities known as heavy oil that comes from Venezuela to a light sweet crude that is produced at various spots around the globe. The light sweet crude is the easiest to refine and the product needed by most of the world's refineries. It is also the product in the shortest supply. There is plenty of heavy sour crude available with nearly two million bbls per day going unsold at present. I have used the analogy in these pages numerous times about gasoline vs diesel. If you need gasoline and pull into a filling station that is out and only has diesel it does not matter if it is 25 cents a gallon. You just can't use it. That is the same with the heavy sour crude. We could have 10 mbpd of excess sour crude at $30 a bbl and light crude could still cost $75 a bbl. Consumers need to get over it and either pay the price or park the car. The shortage of light sweet crude is simply a fact of life that I have been warning about for more than two years. It will get worse as the decade continues but not necessarily in a straight line. Prices will ease with seasonal patterns and the return of the hurricane damaged Gulf refineries to production. As global demand continues to increase the problem will continue to get worse. Some refineries are being upgraded to use the heavy crude but that process will take years and we will still be behind the demand curve. Americans are spoiled when it comes to gas prices. Many countries are have been paying a lot more for gasoline for many years. The table below shows some of the prices this week. I also included some of the low prices where prices are controlled and subsidized by the government.

Gasoline Price Table

Other earnings reported today showed the results of the increased demand for drilling and the damage repair efforts in the Gulf. Baker Hughes (BHI), a drilling equipment, oil service company saw earnings soar +89% for the quarter and beat estimates by +14 cents. BHI jumped +5.10 intraday but was losing ground rapidly at the close. It will likely be down hard tomorrow. National Oilwell Varco (NOV), saw earnings spike +237% on revenue that almost doubled. NOV rose +3.50 intraday but closed in negative territory. Rowan Drilling (RDC) saw a +39% jump in profits but fell -4 over the last two days. Diamond Offshore (DO) saw profits jump from 23 cents to $1.06 per share, more than +300% gain, but has lost -$5 since Tuesday's historic high. Valero (VLO) posted a jump in income of +58% to a company record of $1.33 billion for the quarter but broke the cardinal rule of being inline with estimates. VLO has fallen -7.50 since the announcement high.

These post earnings declines should not surprise anyone. It is a historical fact that when great earnings are expected the gains are baked into the cake before the announcement. Add in the decline in oil prices from $75.40 to $72 and the temporary removal of the ethanol mandate you have conditions ripe for profit taking. The dip is only temporary but that means different things to different people. Hurricane season is only four weeks away and weathermen are getting ready for the worst. Rig repair crews in the Gulf are under pressure to complete as much as possible before the weather turns nasty again.

The IAEA report on Iran is scheduled for Friday but unless they found a smoking gun they have not leaked to the press it should be a non-event. Russia and China have both gone soft on the topic to keep from harming their weapons sales and in the case of China protect their oil imports. There is probably going to be a lot of smoke but no substance.

The markets will probably be more interested in what Bernanke will say on Thursday than the Iran news on Friday. Bernanke will dodge radioactive questions of his own as the joint committee grills him on the future direction of the Fed.

I scanned the 143 earnings reporters tonight in an effort to find something of a non-oil nature to discuss but the cupboard was bare. Most of the big names have already reported and tonight's offerings were a motley collection of average companies. On Thursday we will hear from some large caps including AET, BZH, CAH, DCX, XOM, HET, HIG, MRO, MGM, MSFT, PD and DOW to name a few. Thursday is richly populated with earnings from the rest of the oil sector and dozens of biotechs. The highlights will of course be XOM and MSFT. Sell the news should be the order of the day for anybody reporting.

One interesting note on the financial sector. Rising interest rates do not appear to be hampering Bank of America. Their board authorized another buyback of 200 million shares for up to $12 billion. They did the same thing last year and there are 47 million shares left on that authorization. They plan on doing this over the next 18 months. BAC claims it has returned $46 billion in capital to shareholders over the last five years through dividends and buybacks. They also claim this will not slow their current build out of new branches across the country. BAC has 4.6 billion shares outstanding. Personally I would like to see them buy something with all that excess cash that will add to earnings going forward. They could re-launch the BankAmericard credit card once again. BAC is very unhappy with Visa after spending billions to help build the brand over the years. BAC represents 20% of Visa's total business. Citigroup has also pondered leaving Visa to launch a branded card of its own. Both pay huge fees to Visa, rumored to be in the range of 8 cents per transaction. If both left the Visa fold it could cost Visa $250 million in annual fees plus remove nearly 35% of its card base. Could be our credit card rates are about to get a lot cheaper if both these companies launch competing products.

Picking a market direction for the rest of the week could be tricky tonight. A lot depends on Bernanke tomorrow given the Fed meeting on May 10th. Perception is a powerful motivator and the perception the Fed is about to quit could power another try at the highs. Similarly should the perception increase that the Fed is worried about rising energy prices pushing inflation higher and producing the need for more hikes it could get ugly. The Fed funds futures are now showing a 62% chance of another hike to 5.25% at the late June meeting.

Investors are at a crossroads this week as the worst six months of the trading year begins May 1st. Do they hang on and hope for some sign at the May FOMC meeting that they are done or bail out now and take their profits. With the markets struggling at their highs it is never a bad time to take those profits. I suggested last weekend that we short a break of SPX 1310 and that happened at the open on Monday and again on Tuesday and again on Wednesday. There have been plenty of chances for those shorts to be entered. That is still my recommendation tonight. Remain short under 1310.

I know the +71 on the Dow today may look like a rally but the gains were mostly from GM, CAT, PG and IBM. You can't look at the Dow as a proxy for the markets regardless of how much the talking heads on CNBC repeat the numbers. You have to depend on the broader indexes for market direction. The S&P has been trapped in the 1295-1310 range since March 14th with only a couple serious attempts to move higher. 1315 is the May-2001 resistance high and it has been solid resistance. Until that resistance breaks the markets are not going higher. I know that sounds dumb but there is no other way to put it. Without the Fed in the picture tomorrow the risks would be to the downside. At least that is the path of least resistance.

SPX Chart - 120 min

The Russell has been a moving force supporting the markets since last October. Last week's short squeeze push to 778 was a new historic high. Since that spike the Russell has not been a pillar of strength and is in danger of breaking support at 760. Add in the Nasdaq weakness ahead of Microsoft earnings tomorrow and that creates added stress. Nasdaq 2300 is still the key and it has been strong support. However, we are approaching the summer doldrums and investor interest will begin to wane very quickly as summer weather arrives. I would like to maintain a bullish bias because of the NYSE Composite's stellar performance and new historic high last Friday but much of the $NYA.x move was related to the energy sector and that ramp to $75 last week. With energy earnings over this week and the beating energy stocks are taking after reporting I would worry about the chances for continued NYSE strength. Therefore, remain short under SPX 1310 and lets see what thrills and chills Bernanke can create on Thursday. Anything but an outstanding market friendly performance will just add to the gathering storm clouds.

New Plays

New Option Plays

Call Options Plays
Put Options Plays
Strangle Options Plays
STRA None None

New Calls

Strayer Educ. - STRA - close: 105.88 chg: +4.07 stop: 101.99

Company Description:
Strayer Education, Inc. is an education services holding company that owns Strayer University and certain other assets. Strayer's mission is to make higher education achievable and convenient for working adults in today's economy. Strayer University is a proprietary institution of higher learning that offers undergraduate and graduate degree programs in business administration, accounting, information technology, education, and public administration to more than 27,000 working adult students at 39 campuses in 10 states in the eastern United States and worldwide via the Internet through Strayer University Online. (source: company press release or website)

Why We Like It:
This is an aggressive short-term breakout play. STRA is due to report earnings on the morning of May 4th. That gives us five trading days to ride today's bullish breakout over significant resistance at the $105 level. Today's move was fueled by above average volume and STRA's P&F chart has produced a quintuple-top breakout buy signal that now points to a $123 target. Our target will be the $112.50-115.00 range although more conservative traders may want to exit near $110. We'll put a stop loss under today's low. We plan to exit on Wednesday, May 3rd near the closing bell.

Suggested Options:
We are suggesting the May calls.

BUY CALL MAY 100.00 SDQ-ET open interest=117 current ask $8.30
BUY CALL MAY 105.00 SDQ-EA open interest= 30 current ask $5.00
BUY CALL MAY 110.00 SDQ-EB open interest= 75 current ask $2.60

Picked on April 26 at $105.88
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 05/04/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 171 thousand

New Puts

None today.

New Strangles

None today.

Play Updates

In Play Updates and Reviews

Call Updates

Lehman Brothers - LEH - close: 153.19 chg: +2.24 stop: 147.75

A bullish session for the DJIA closing at new multi-year highs helped inspire some dip-buying in LEH. LEH added 1.48% as traders bought the dip near $150. We're not suggesting new bullish positions at this time but if you were looking for one this is probably a good spot to consider buying calls again in LEH. Our biggest concern would be the bearish signals we see in some of the technical indicators. Our suggested plan was to sell half the bullish position near $153 and the rest near $159. Don't forget that LEH has a stock split coming on May 1st. We are considering an early exit to avoid any post-split depression in the stock.

Picked on March 22 at $144.61
Change since picked: + 8.58
Earnings Date 06/14/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 2.0 million


Acc. Home Lenders - LEND - cls: 54.60 chg: -0.16 stop: 52.95

Short-term technicals are turning bearish in LEND with the stock's three-day pull back (or five day consolidation) following its recent breakout. The $54.00 level was previous resistance so we're expecting it to act as new support. A bounce from $54.00 can be used as a new bullish entry point but we're running out of time. LEND is expected to report earnings on May 2nd and we don't want to hold over the report. Our target is the $59.75-60.00 range. More conservative traders may want to think about tightening their stop losses.

Picked on April 19 at $ 56.57
Change since picked: - 1.98
Earnings Date 05/02/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 693 thousand


Progressive - PGR - close: 106.40 chg: +1.48 stop: 103.95

PGR turned in a decent rebound today with a 1.4% gain. We are fortune that the stock managed to bounce. As of Tuesday's close the situation did not look very promising. Currently the stock is still trading under its simple 200-dma and resistance near $108. If you are looking for a new entry point it might pay off to just wait for a breakout over $108 before considering positions. However, bear in mind that we do not want to hold over the May 8th earnings report. PGR's 4-for-1 stock split is due on May 19th.

Picked on April 23 at $106.46
Change since picked: - 0.06
Earnings Date 05/08/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 846 thousand

Put Updates

Cbot Holdings - BOT - close: 112.35 chg: +0.85 stop: 113.01

We do not see any change from our Tuesday night play description. The stock did produce a bounce today but remains in a bearish H&S pattern. The P&F chart, which eliminates some of the noise seen on the daily chart, is bearish with a sell-signal pointing to a $92 target. We are going to suggest a trigger at $108.95, which is under Monday's low. If triggered then we'll target a decline into the $101.50-100.00 range. Our time frame is about three to four weeks.

Picked on April 25 at $ xx.xx <-- see TRIGGER
Change since picked: + 0.00
Earnings Date 04/19/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 322 thousand


Overseas Shipping - OSG - cls: 48.65 chg: +0.00 stop: 50.01

Hmmm... OSG's consolidation seems to be narrowing or coiling for a breakout. Unfortunately, we can't tell which direction the breakout might go. It's bearish that OSG failed to participate in the rally today but we would not be surprised by a move higher. The P&F chart remains bearish. We are not suggesting new put positions at this time. More conservative traders might want to think about adjusting their stops toward technical resistance at the 50-dma near 49.67. We do not want to hold over the early May earnings report.

Picked on April 11 at $ 48.10
Change since picked: + 0.55
Earnings Date 05/02/06 (unconfirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 469 thousand


Whole Foods - WFMI - close: 61.87 chg: -0.19 stop: 65.05 *new*

WFMI tried to bounce this morning but failed. Today's relative weakness is good news for the bears. We are going to lower our stop loss to $65.05. Our target is the $60.25-60.00 range but more aggressive traders may want to aim lower. The biggest challenge is probably the time frame. We do not want to hold over the May 3rd earnings report.

Picked on April 23 at $ 63.91
Change since picked: - 2.04
Earnings Date 05/03/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 1.8 million

Strangle Updates

(What is a strangle? It's when a trader buys an out-of-the-money (OTM) call and an OTM put on the same stock. The strategy is neutral. You do not care what direction the stock moves as long as the move is big enough to make your investment profitable.)


There are currently no strangle plays.

Dropped Calls

Arch Cap. Grp. - ACGL - cls: 60.10 chg: +0.85 stop: 58.49

A generally widespread market rally on Wednesday helped ACGL breakout past the $59.50 level and close at a new high. It was or plan to close the play today near the closing bell to avoid holding over the company's earnings report expected tomorrow. Volume was pretty strong today on the mini breakout. Aggressive traders might want to hold ACGL one more session since the company doesn't report until after the market close tomorrow.

Picked on April 03 at $ 58.15
Change since picked: + 1.95
Earnings Date 04/27/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 195 thousand


Alliance Res. Ptrnrs - ARLP - cls: 41.95 chg: +0.66 stop: 37.95

Target achieved. Coal-producer ARLP posted another positive session today and traded to $42.12 midday. Our target was the $42.00-42.50 range. We remain bullish on the coal producers. With crude oil so high it puts additional focus on alternative energy plays. However, right now ARLP looks short-term overbought so we'd look for a dip before considering new bullish positions.

Picked on April 23 at $ 38.98
Change since picked: + 2.97
Earnings Date 04/24/06 (confirmed)
Average Daily Volume = 101 thousand

Dropped Puts


Dropped Strangles


Trader's Corner

Market 'Sentiment'

I received a SUBSCRIBER E-MAIL today commenting that there hadn't been many extremes seen in recent weeks in my 'Sentiment' indicator. The question was if I was seeing any such extremes lately in bullishness or bearishness that would suggest the possibility of the market tacking on further gains or starting to fall again.

My particular way of measuring market 'sentiment' is usually seen depicted on the S&P 100 (OEX) Daily chart that I show in my Index Trader weekend column. As it happens, today I saw an unusual drop in this indicator, suggesting a more bearish or defensive options stance; this, as measured by total equities call and put daily volume numbers on the CBOE. A drop like in line seen below for today is unusual on an up day like today.

Unusual too because the chart still looks bullish in its pattern, showing a sideways drift it's true (after the last sharp up from the up trendline as seen on the chart below), but looking to me like an OEX consolidation ahead of another advance that'll carry above recent highs. The sideways movement, with prices remaining below the possible 'double top' seen on the chart below, may have brought up or brought out more bearish sentiment than seen for a while, as measured by my Indicator seen under the OEX price chart.

By my way of measuring trader 'sentiment' here, there was as much bearishness shown today (by the pick up in equities put volume relative to total daily equities call volume), as seen in several months. A 1-day reading to be sure, but I look ONLY, or primarily, for 1-day extremes. I took today's reading as a positive for maintaining a bullish trading stance and bias.

What we have seen with my 'CPRATIO' Indicator above are many instances where the ratio line got to and above the upper line, suggesting a high degree of bullishness. Very often such spikes in this line were coinciding with, or ahead of, a pullback. On balance, I consider today's sharp drop in my indicator line to be bullish and the opposite of what was being seen by the bearish market outlook suggested by the jump in put activity.

I haven't discussed my version of a market 'sentiment' measure in a while, so will give some background on the topic. For those who have followed this indicator and my explanations for some time already could go read a book or something, especially if it was my own (Essential Technical Analysis)! Kidding of course.

The measure of market 'sentiment' I use as a measure of how bullish or bearish market participants are, stems from examining the daily volume of equities' options put volume relative to daily call volume, with the 'twist' of taking OUT the call and put volume for the index options such as the OEX.

A standard way of looking a sentiment is the daily put/call ratio; e.g., .5, where put volume was half that of call volume. What I use to see if the market is getting 'overheated' so to speak, or the reverse, is to do the ratio a little differently.
1. I use the CBOE figures only
2. Divide total call volume by put volume and not the reverse.
3. Use only the options volume totals for equities alone.

Put volume on any given day for both (individual) equities AND index options is what is normally compared and is most always a fractional number. If the put/call reading was 1.00, put volume EQUALED call volume that day which happens very rarely.

Total daily index and equities options put volume is divided by total daily call volume. You can check this number all over the place, such as on the CBOE web site (www.cboe.com) or in charting programs like Q-Charts, using I believe the symbol 'QC:PUTCALL'. Correct me if this has changed please!

It has been noticed over many years, that when put volume gets quite high, such as being equal to call volume, traders are getting VERY bearish. The reverse is true when call volume numbers way outstrip put volume; the market is often getting ready for a fall.

Since traders are 'closest' to the market so to speak, day in and day out, people looking for clues to the next big move have taken notice. If in the case of a put volume being high, the market may be at or approaching an 'oversold' extreme in terms of how traders feel about the market bullish or bearish, reflected in which way are they trading.

Obviously how bullish or bearish option traders are is best shown by where they are putting their money - more into calls or into puts and what is the trend of that if you plotted it on a chart, such as seen in the above chart.

Selling calls is not really a bullish play of course, just as selling puts can be a bullish play. Nevertheless, a majority or large plurality of option traders are betting on market direction, so call volume goes up substantially on rally phases and put volume increases substantially in declining markets.

I've often written about how Charles Dow, well over a 100 years ago, observed that at significant market tops most market participants are bullish and at market lows many were shorting stocks, or they were out of the market; no options then!

Dow started writing about the idea that if there is especially heavy buying or heavy selling, the market could be nearing a trend reversal and something contrary to the trend was about to happen when everyone was heavily betting on one direction or the other for the market.

The concept of "contrary opinion" really started with Dow's observations that extremes in bullishness tended to be bearish and bearish extremes in betting on market direction tended to be bullish. This is part of the 'Alice in Wonderland' aspect of the Street of Dreams!

It makes sense when we see that traders and investors mostly REACT to existing trends rather than ANTICIPATE changes in market direction. So, the longer the market goes up or stays up, such as been the case in the past several months now, the more that the 'extremes' are seen in my indicator on the UPside as seen below in the same chart again of the S&P 100.

I wanted to have an indicator that 'reads' like other overbought/oversold indicators such as Stochastics and RSI. Where a LOW number is suggesting a possible 'oversold' condition and subject to an upside reversal; and a HIGH reading is indicating that the market may be 'overbought' and subject to a downside reversal. To do this and get a whole number that goes higher as call volume gets heavier, was simply a matter of reversing what is divided; i.e., calls divided by puts.

Comparison of options volumes, whichever way it's kept, tends to be EARLY, but 1 to a few trading days, in terms of 'signaling' a trend change. Buy or sell points are often one to as many as 1 to as many as 5-6 trading days ahead of an actual top or bottom.

The other thing that can make the put/call standard way of measuring market extremes tricky is the effect of index calls and index puts in the total option volume figures. There is a lot of hedging by money and hedge fund managers that goes on that distorts the standard put to call ratios that use a total daily volume number that includes both Index and individual stock options volumes.

To get a purer 'sentiment' read so to speak, I've found it useful to only use a daily equities option volume numbers. It takes me keeping a ratio done on a calculator and then putting the number manually into a spread sheet to plot the resulting ratio. With my particular charting software (TradeStation) I can chart a 'custom' data item and what you see in the OEX indicator shown above.

You could also keep this ratio in a log sheet or table, without charting it and just notice when the calls to puts daily equities volume ratio on the CBOE gets to be 2.1 or higher and when the ratio gets to be 1.2 or lower; both suggesting extremes in market sentiment along with trends that may be subject to at least short-term reversals.

Such extreme 1-day readings (or the 5-day average) doesn't often get to these extremes, but when they do and especially if other patterns and indicator extremes are lining up the same way, a high or low call to put ratio is like saying "ready, get set, go" and time to be watchful for a trend reversal or acceleration in an existing trend in the coming day or days; up to 3-5 trading days
days down the road.

Please send any technical and Index-related questions for answer in Trader's Corner articles to support@optioninvestor.com with 'Leigh Stevens' in the Subject line.

This Wednesday Trader's Corner article also serves as an adjunct to my weekend 'Index Trader' column. In the article you're reading here I typically often do a brief midweek update of my in-depth weekend column.

You will normally see a web LINK to the Index Trader at the top of your weekend (Sat./Sun.) Option Investor Daily e-mail. This article can be accessed by going to the OptionInvestor.com web site; click on the Index Trader section at top. My most recent Index Trader is also seen by clicking here.

** Good Trading Success! **

Today's Newsletter Notes: Market Wrap by Jim Brown, Trader's Corner by Leigh Stevens, and all other plays and content by the Option Investor staff.


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