Today's tickers: XLF, FXI, EWW, VIA/B & CTSH

XLF – Financial Select Sector SPDR – Call sales are abundant on the banking index today as shares have slipped 1.75% to $9.04. Option traders were very active in the soon-to-expire February contract, and were seen shedding out-of-the-money calls throughout the morning. Most notable was the February 10 strike price where nearly 19,000 calls were sold for an average price of 10 cents apiece. The trades at the 10 strike reflect pessimism on the XLF—that shares are not likely to rally by 10% in order for the calls to land in-the-money by the end of next week. Surrounding the 10 strike were call sales observed at the February 9.0 strike, where 4,500 in-the-money calls sold for 41 cents apiece, and the February 11 strike price, where about 1,200 calls were shed for just 3 cents each. Further entrenching the overall bearish stance on the XLF today was the presence of 1,100 puts purchased at the February 9.0 strike for 39 cents apiece. With a breakeven of $8.61, these put purchasers will profit from continued downward movement in the financials index.

FXI – iShares FTSE/Xinhua China 25 Index (ETF) – Chinese shares are up by about 1.5% to $26.85 today amid news that the Chinese government's $585 billion stimulus package aimed at machinery, construction, and infrastructure appears to be working. Some traders appear to be less confident on the sustainability of Chinese growth prospects in the short-term, as evidenced by 2,000 puts purchased at the March 23 strike price for 74 cents each. These out-of-the-money puts require shares to drop by at least 18% to a breakeven of $22.26 in order to reap profits by expiration. Most notable, however, was one far-term bullish trader who sold 2,000 puts for a premium of 7.00 at the January 25 strike price set to expire in 2011. With time on his side and the apparent initial success of the Chinese stimulus package in his back pocket, this investor is optimistic that shares will remain above $25 in two years. By pocketing the premium today, this trader is accepting the risk of having the shares put to him at the 25 strike price. The effective purchase price is then reduced to $18 thanks to his standing ready to take delivery, for which he reaps a 7.0 premium today.

EWW – iShares MSCI Mexico – As one of America's best and not to mention most conveniently located manufacturers, Mexico has buckled under the strain recently as the American government tries to get its house in order. The chart pattern for Mexican stocks looks unsurprisingly like that of the S&P 500 index. An option trader appears to have sold large amounts of puts expiring in June today in trading that could be a sizeable bet that Mexico will benefit from an exhalation of volatility when the government's plans kick-in. With shares in the ETF trading up at $27.20 today some 22,000 puts were sold at a premium of around 2.70 while 15,000 puts were sold at 3.10. In the case that these were both simply short put positions the investor stands willing to buy if assigned at the strikes by expiration, but would be taking in the stock at prices discounted by the value of today's premium. The 52-week low for the shares stands at $22.83.

VIA/B – Viacom Inc. Class B – Shares of the global entertainment company have rallied by over 1% today to $16.50. VIA popped up on our 'hot by options volume' markets scanner after a large volume of calls were traded by one investor. 20,000 calls were sold at the September 22.5 strike price for an average premium of 1.075. If this individual is buying the shares and writing covered calls, then he is probably somewhat bullish on the stock. He pockets the 1.07 premium per contract today, and has effectively written his exit strategy at the 22.5 strike price. Should the underlying shares be called away from him at expiration in 7 months time, he will have made an approximate 35% gain on the shares in addition to the premium snagged with today's sale. If this investor does not own underlying shares the picture is a bit different. It would seem that the trader is taking advantage of today's optimism and call premium increase by selling the 20,000 calls and reeling in the 1.07 premium in hopes that any rally fizzles out.

CTSH – Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp. – The custom IT consulting and technology services company's shares have rallied today by over 1.5% to $21.10 after strong fourth quarter results were reported. CTSH's earnings rose nearly 17% in the fourth quarter, and surpassed analysts' expectations. Option traders on the prowl for calls appear to have bought heavily in the March contract. At the March 22.5 strike price, about 10,000 calls were scooped up for an average price of 92 cents each, while at the March 25 strike, over 3,100 calls were purchased for 32 cents apiece. If shares can continue on their upward climb and reach the breakeven price of $23.42, the 22.5 calls will prove profitable. As for the March 25 calls, shares would need to rally by 17% to a breakeven of $25.32 in order for these bulls to make bank by expiration.