Options bulls gun for more as U.S. tech earnings roll up

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 27, 2017 1:15 PM

By Saqib Iqbal Ahmed

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Options traders are betting that the U.S. technology sector's strong rally has more room to run as big industry names Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O>, Intel Inc <INTC.O> and Google parent Alphabet Inc <GOOGL.O> get set to report quarterly results.

With tech companies poised to benefit from the Trump administration's new tax proposals, recent options trading in the Technology Select Sector SPDR Fund <XLK.P>, the PowerShares QQQ Trust <QQQ.O> and individual names such as Microsoft and Intel, points to investors' optimistic outlook for the sector, market experts said.

"The flow has largely been bullish," said Ilya Feygin, managing director and senior strategist at WallachBeth Capital. "In a lot of these names, we have seen above-average call volumes recently."

Investors usually use call options, which convey the right to buy shares at a fixed price in the future, to bet on share price gains.

Puts, which convey the right to sell shares at a fixed price in the future, are usually used for defensive bets and have largely been out of favor.

"People are not really positioning very much for the downside in technology," said David Russell, senior manager at online broker E*Trade Financial Corp <ETFC.O> in Chicago.

The S&P 500 Information Technology Index <.SPLRCT> is up about 14 percent year to date, topping all other S&P sectors. Its gain is more than double the 6.6 percent rise in the benchmark S&P 500 Index <.SPX>.

A one-page outline of U.S. President Donald Trump's tax plan unveiled on Wednesday proposes deep cuts, many for businesses. It would lower the rate on repatriated earnings held offshore by multinationals to well below the current 35 percent.

Big technology companies stand to gain a lot from the Trump administration's tax policies, said Mohannad Aama, chief investment officer of Beam Capital Management in New York.

"The Trump trade of lower corporate taxes and reduced taxes on repatriation benefits tech the most as it is one, if not the most, profitable sectors in general and probably has the most funds held oversees," Aama said.

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Earnings reports through Thursday morning have supported options traders' bullish outlook on the tech sector, with 86 percent of companies beating analysts' earnings expectations, compared with 75 percent for all S&P 500 companies, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Expectations for tech earnings growth have increased to 16.4 percent from 15 percent at the start of the month, when the reporting period began, the data showed.

Microsoft, Intel and Alphabet are set to report quarterly results after Thursday's market close, and Apple Inc <AAPL.O> and Facebook Inc <FB.O> will do so next week.

(Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Additional reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Daniel Bases and Lisa Von Ahn)