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While Wall Street may have its doubts on the short-term future of Lamar Advertising Co (NASDAQ:LAMR - 29.72), a fairly large-scale options speculator is counting on the display-ad company to be reliable through the next couple of weeks. Specifically, a put seller has collected premium in LAMR in hopes that the stock will stay put or even move higher ahead of August options expiration.
Put volume is running 21 times heavier than usual today, but virtually all of this action is taking shape at the August 28 put. In fact, while just over 5,000 contracts have traded at this out-of-the-money strike, the second-most active option today has seen all of 12 contracts change hands.
One block of 3,589 contracts traded off the bid price of $0.80 this morning for a net premium of roughly $287,000. This put seller will keep the premium as profit should LAMR still be trading above $28 when the options expire on August 17. Below this level, the seller would likely have to meet his obligation of buying the shares at $28. This stock purchase price is offset, however, by the premium collected for initially selling the puts.
LAMR has moved modestly higher in 2012 -- up roughly 8% -- and recently overcame short-term resistance at its 80-day moving average. Last Tuesday, the stock hurdled above this trendline after UBS published a note suggesting the firm could potentially convert to a real estate investment trust, though admitted such a move was "unlikely."
The Street hasn't been Lamar's biggest supporter, as just three of the 12 analysts following the stock name it a "buy" or better. What's more, the 12-month price target for the stock, according to Thomson Reuters, is $29.67, or just a chip-shot away from current levels. If the brokerage group turns more optimistic toward this name, other sidelined investors could follow suit.
The options crowd has been similarly cautious, as suggested by volume activity at the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX). In the past 50 trading days, the put/call volume ratio at this trio of exchanges stands in the 92nd annual percentile, suggesting buy-to-open put activity has rarely been heavier in the past year. Today's put selling is obviously an exception to this intermediate-term trend.
Similarly, the Schaeffer's put/call open interest ratio (SOIR) for LAMR stands at 1.50, meaning near-term puts outweigh calls three-to-two. This reading is at an annual high, which also points to an extreme in bearish speculation.
Earnings are expected from the company on August 6, and LAMR has surprised to the upside in two of the past four reporting periods. If the company manages to turn higher from these results, some of the stock's skeptics may be forced to change their tune.