Options speculators chasing after rumors that Lehman Brothers would be forced to announce exposure problems to subprime derivatives paid little attention to the firm even after it called the rumors "unfounded".
"The rumors regarding subprime exposure are totally unfounded," said a Lehman spokeswoman.
The Lehman statement failed to quell bearish options speculation, or take the underlying stock meaningfully above the worst levels of the session. Lehman put option volume overwhelmed call volume by a margin of 3 to 1.
Punk Ziegel's earlier downgrade of brokerage names including Lehman served as a catalyst for the bearish speculation.
"There a lot of anxiety about who's involved with subprime exposure," said Paul Foster, options strategist for theflyonthewall.com. "Lehman doesn't have the worldwide, money center cache like Citigroup and JP Morgan."
Foster said "the very emotional traders" have been piling into the July put options which will expire on Friday. Over 19,000 Lehman July 70 puts traded by just after noon New York time, versus open interest of more than 38,000 contracts.
Whether speculators have erred in buying out-of-the-money puts so close to expiration remains to be seen, but Foster noted that "as always there are two sides to the trade" including those who have sold the puts who stand to make money if the stock fails to fall below the 70 strike price.
The bearish Lehman options speculation spans well beyond the July contracts. More than 8,000 August 70 puts have also traded, along with more than 1,000 August 65 puts. In the most far out bet, more than 7,000 Lehman January 40 puts also traded on the offer at just after noon, a hedge on the possibility that Lehman shares would fall precipitously over the next six months.
Foster says not only is options volume and implied volatility elevated in Lehman, but also in options of Merrill Lynch, MBIA, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Bear Stearns.