Options traders on edge as Qualcomm-NXP deal deadline looms

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NEW YORK (Reuters) – Traders in the U.S. options market braced for a large near-term move in the shares of chipmaker Qualcomm Inc (QCOM.O) and NXP Semiconductors (NXPI.O) with hours to go before the deadline to get China’s nod for a $44 billion deal.

FILE PHOTO: A man works on a tent for NXP Semiconductors in preparation for the 2015 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) at Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S. January 4, 2015. REUTERS/Steve Marcus/File Photo

San Diego-based Qualcomm needs Chinese approval for the deal because the country accounted for nearly two-thirds of its global revenue last year, but Sino-U.S. trade tensions have raised the prospect that the deal could be scuppered.

Qualcomm, the world’s biggest maker of chips for mobile phones, and Dutch chipmaker NXP said in April they would call off the deal if they were unable to win Chinese regulatory approval by midnight on Wednesday.

Options on NXP Semiconductors are primed for a nearly 11 percent swing in the share price in either direction by Friday, according to Thomson Reuters data.

“This is a big deal. It’s a clear event on the calendar and we have seen options activity growing going into the announcement,” said David Russell, vice president of content strategy TradeStation Securities in Chicago.

“If you look at most of the pricing, most people at this point appear to be positioning for upside in NXPI,” said Russell, referring to recent trading activity.

On Wednesday, 100,000 NXP Semiconductors options contracts traded by 1:10 p.m. ET (1710 GMT), with contracts changing hands at 1.5 times the usual pace. Calls outnumbered puts three-to-one.

Qualcomm is also set to report third-quarter results after the close of trading on Wednesday. The options-implied move for Qualcomm is around 6 percent, compared with an eight-quarter average move of 3 percent.

Overall, NXP options traders’ defensive stance has moderated in recent days.

Traders have also been adding to short bets on NXP since February. Total short interest stands at $772 million, with about 7.6 million shares sold short, according to financial analytics firm S3 Partners.

Short-sellers aim to profit by selling borrowed shares with the hope of buying them back later at a lower price.

“There isn’t a huge rush to short this name, to say that the deal isn’t going to happen, but if you look at sentiment, there has been some active shorting ahead of this deal being finalized,” said Ihor Dusaniwsky, head of research at S3 in New York.

NXP shares were down 2.1 percent, while Qualcomm shares were down 0.7 percent, on Wednesday.

Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Daniel Bases and Cynthia Osterman

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