Options: Playing Chicken with Chicken Makers?


Are there "b-b-bucks" in chicken? The options market seems to think so ... by betting against it.

And that might be a bad move, according to Rebecca Darst of Interactive Brokers.

"Corn futures were the story yesterday, with the futures setting their 15th record for the year so far on dwindling inventory numbers," Darst said on CNBC's "Squawk Box." "The way this is playing out in the options market is through defensive positioning in the major chicken producers. On the surface of it, this would seem like a sort of an intuitive, knee-jerk reaction, kind of like when oil prices go up, you buy puts on the airlines or something, and yet it seems to ignore some of the complexities in the market."

Puts give a trader the right to sell a certain stock at a certain price in the future. Traders buy puts when they think a stock might fall in price.

Darst said option traders seem to be thinking that chicken producers, like Pilgrim's Pride and Tyson , are going to have disappointing earnings that will send their stock prices down. But she said that such thinking may ignore steps the producers are already taking to mitigate their cost problems.

"These chicken producers are cutting capacity where they can; they're shutting down plants; they're eliminating jobs; they're divesting unprofitable product lines; and they are most certainly mitigating their risk to market prices through derivatives," she said. "That's what these instruments are there for, and yet, these puts continue to move."

The same sort of situation happened with Conagra , she said.

"We're going to continue to monitor this action in the May contract in both Tyson and Pilgrim's Pride to see if there's any sort of shift, to see if this remarkable bias toward puts changes at all as the earnings date approaches, because, just look at ConAgra a few weeks ago."

She said options traders were very heavily positioned in puts and then ConAgra surpised to the upside.