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Rumor sends traders barreling into McDonald’s

Options Action: Start lovin' McDonald's?

McDonald's shares are rallying on a rumor that Bill Ackman is taking a stake in the company, and pushing for the fast food giant to spin properties off into a tax-efficient real estate investment trust.

The stock is up 3 percent in two days on the chatter.

In addition to the stock, bullish call options are hot. On Tuesday, the most popular option was the December 90-strike calls (which expire on Friday), which traded at an average price or $0.54. In order for these bets to pay off, the Dow component would need to finish the week above $90.54, or 2 percent above Tuesday's close.

"Obviously traders are getting in on the rumor, looking to play the momentum," Dan Nathan of RiskReversal.com said Tuesday on CNBC's "Fast Money." But "I don't really put a lot of merit into it…. If this rumor doesn't pan out, I would expect to see some selling."

When he was asked directly about the chatter on Bloomberg Television, Ackman said he couldn't comment. However, some market participants appeared to take that response as a tacit confirmation, leading the stock to rise swiftly on Wednesday morning.

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A McDonald's restaurant in Miami.
Getty Images

A press representative for Ackman's firm, Pershing Square Capital Management, told CNBC that Pershing Square does not comment on rumors.

If Ackman is indeed targeting McDonald's, it wouldn't be the first time. In 2005, the investor took a stake in the company and realized hefty gains before he exited the stock in 2007.

This time around, the rumor revolves around the idea that Ackman would push McDonald's to create a REIT with all the property it holds.

However, given that it rents out many of those properties to franchisees, performing such a maneuver could prove untenable.

"Eighty percent of their stores are franchise-owned, so I don't really get it," Nathan said.

When asked about the Ackman rumor and the idea that McDonald's may be pressed to spin off a REIT, McDonald's spokeswoman Becca Hary responded: "We welcome investment in our company. We are focused on enhancing shareholder value" through new initiatives "designedto elevate the menu and customer experience elements that are hallmarks of McDonald's brand, simplify the customer journey across ordering, payment and mobile offers, and create a more nimble U.S. organization that ensures key menu and marketing decisions are made closer to the customer."

This isn't the first rumor that has sent McDonald's shares and options flying. In September, the stock rose on chatter that Icahn was taking a stake. That rumor, like this new Ackman one, still hasn't been substantiated.

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