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Unusual trading activity in Kate Spade ahead of headlines about potential sale

Minutes before Dow Jones reported that Kate Spade is exploring a sale of its business, one options trader purchased nearly 2,000 calls in the accessories label — resulting in a quick $320,000 profit.

According to CNBC "Fast Money Halftime Report" trader Jon Najarian, thousands of Kate Spade's call options were purchased at 12:23 p.m. ET Wednesday — roughly 10 minutes before headlines of a potential sale hit. A call gives the buyer an option to purchase assets at an already agreed-upon price on or before a certain date.

When options activity spikes ahead of an announcement, it can indicate that someone had inside information. Kate Spade has been under pressure to sell its business, after activist firm Caerus Investors suggested the company do so last month.

"We are deeply concerned about the precipitous decline in the share price of Kate Spade over the last two and a half years brought about by management's inability to meet their own stated goals," Caerus said in its letter at that time.

The SEC declined to comment as to whether it would investigate Wednesday's trading activity.

Earlier, a spokeswoman for Kate Spade declined to comment on the potential sale, telling CNBC that "as a company policy, we do not comment on industry rumors or speculation." She did not immediately respond to a second request for comment regarding the trading activity.

A shopper carries a Kate Spade bag outside a store in New York.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A shopper carries a Kate Spade bag outside a store in New York.

After the Dow Jones report surfaced, Kate Spade shares were halted for volatility. They resumed trading shortly after, and following another brief halt, were recently trading about 15 percent higher Wednesday afternoon.

Wells Fargo analyst Ike Boruchow said several brand houses — namely, VF Corp, PVH, Hanesbrands, Michael Kors and Coach — have said they are looking to make an acquisition.

Boruchow said Kate's valuation was "compelling" since the shares have been punished for the company's recent choppy earnings reports.

VF Corp and Michael Kors, which are typically quiet on the options front, both saw heightened activity on Wednesday.

"We know that both Coach and Kors each have cash and want to make a purchase of another brand," Telsey Advisory Group's Dana Telsey told CNBC on Wednesday. "You certainly have in Kate a long runway of potential growth ahead."

Spokespersons from Michael Kors, Coach and VF Corp each told CNBC that their companies do not comment on rumors or speculation.