February 6, 2014 / 8:39 PM / 5 years ago

Big bets on Green Mountain ahead of Coke stake raise eyebrows

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A surge in bets that shares of Green Mountain Coffee Roasters would rise sharply by the end of the week has raised suspicions, coming as it did just hours before news of a partnership deal with Coca-Cola (KO.N).

Green Mountain Coffee single-serve K-Cups are pictured in New York, May 3, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Green Mountain GMCR.O said late Wednesday Coca-Cola bought a 10 percent stake for $1.25 billion and would help launch Green Mountain’s new cold-drink machine, planned for release as soon as October.

To be successful, many of the bets - call options conferring the right to buy Green Mountain shares at a specific price before midnight Friday - required the shares to rise to $90 or $95, roughly a 12 percent to 18 percent increase over two days.

The shares, which closed at $80.88 on Wednesday before the announcement, were up 26.5 percent at $102.29 on Thursday afternoon. Earlier they traded as high as $110.50.

“We noticed the out-of-the-money ones which were definitely a bit suspicious. To wait until the last minute before some sort of announcement to buy something that expires so soon, that does raise an eyebrow,” said Ryan Detrick, senior analyst at Schaeffer’s Investment Research in Cincinnati.

A call option with a “strike” price significantly higher than that of the underlying stock is described as being out of the money.

“It’s safe to say that if they bought (the contracts) anytime yesterday, they easily made over 1,000 percent near the open today,” Detrick said.

The total volume of call options, which generally convey bullish expectations for a stock, surged in Green Mountain on Wednesday, jumping to 53,681 contracts from a recent daily average of about 13,000 contracts, according to options analytics firm Trade Alert.

The $95 strikes closed on Wednesday at 46 cents per contract. Since one contract accounts for 100 shares of a stock, a purchase of 1,000 call options would cost about $46,000. Those options were trading on Thursday at $10.10 per contract, which would make 1,000 calls worth about $1.01 million.

Among the biggest open interest changes were in the $90 strike call, which added 2,688 contracts to bring open interest to a total of 4,553 contracts, and the $95 calls, where volume of 1,695 contracts brought open interest to 2,475, according to Trade Alert.

Suspicious activity in options market ahead of major announcements is not new. While some of the bets could be pure speculation, regulators have been increasing their surveillance of suspicious action prior to big announcements.

The CBOE’s Department of Market Regulation “does review unusual trading activity on a regular basis,” a CBOE spokesperson said, but it does not comment on any specific situations. A spokesperson for the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission declined comment.

A spokesperson at Green Mountain did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In addition, the company reported earnings on Wednesday, and expectations headed into the report was for a move of about 15 percent in the shares. Activity in bearish put options was also greater than normal, according to Trade Alert.

“Green Mountain had earnings coming out and implied volatility was high since earnings are a big deal anyway to the company,” said Brian Overby, senior options analyst at TradeKing in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“But if something way out-of-the-money (contracts) were bought for the open and weren’t closing for anything, that is speculation.”

In August, a former Green Mountain employee was charged by the SEC with participating in an insider trading scheme, where bets would be made using out-of-the-money options prior to earnings reports.

Reporting By Angela Moon

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