Snap options set for strong demand on market debut


Traders looking for a piece of the action around Snap Inc's newly launched shares will get another way to bet on the fortunes of the Snapchat owner when its options start trading on Friday.

Weekly and monthly options contracts on Snap's shares are expected to start trading on Friday, CBOE Holdings Inc said last week, once certain regulatory requirements for their listing are met.

Venice, California-based Snap sold $3.4 billion worth of stock in a highly anticipated initial public offering last week, marking the hottest technology IPO in three years.

But a lofty valuation for the loss-making social media company left some wondering if investors had bid up the shares too much. Snap shares have retreated somewhat since surging 44 percent to close at $24.48 on their first day of trading, but remain above their IPO price of $17 per share.

Snap's options market debut will allow traders to place bets on where they expect the shares to trade in the future.

"I think there will be high demand for Snap options," said Ophir Gottlieb, chief executive of Los Angeles-based Capital Market Laboratories.

There is no guarantee that Snapchat, which had 158 million daily active users in the fourth quarter, will be able to monetize that population consistently and fend off competition from the likes of Facebook Inc's Instagram, analysts said. Concerns have also emerged about Snap's slowing user growth and its new shares' lack of voting rights.

Widely differing views on how the shares will fare will likely translate into a rush of options trading volume that could hit six figures on the first day and rival Facebook Inc's options market debut in 2012, Gottlieb said.

Nearly 365,000 Facebook options contracts changed hands on the first day of their listing, a record for a new listing, per options analytics firm Trade Alert.

"Technology stocks, especially social media stocks, are the kind of companies that really draw a lot of activity from options traders," said David Russell, senior manager at online broker E*Trade Financial Corp in Chicago.

The timing of the Snap options listing, coming as it does in the midst of a market-wide slump in volatility, also bodes well. Higher volatility in Snap shares relative to the broader market could offer enticing potential payouts for traders who place bets on sharp price moves.

"The options market in general has been hungry for anything that has volatility," Gottlieb said.

The options will also give short sellers an additional venue for betting on a drop in the stock, market experts said.

"People who want to bet to the downside will be looking to buy puts on a name like this," Russell said.

Puts convey the right to sell the stock at a set price at a future date, while calls provide the right to buy it at a certain price at a date down the road.

Snap's shares tumbled on Monday and Tuesday, falling a combined 20.9 percent from Friday's close of $27.09. Analysts have given the company a lukewarm reception.

However on Wednesday they gained back some ground to trade just under $23 a share.

Since newly issued stocks have a limited number of shares that can be��borrowed for shorting purposes, increased shorting demand can lead to a scarcity of shares available for borrowing and also drive up the cost of borrowing.

While it is difficult to pin down exactly how many shares are available to lend to short sellers, early data suggests short interest around $300 million, S3 Partners Managing Director of Research Ihor Dusaniwsky said.

(Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Daniel Bases and Meredith Mazzilli)