Brian.oco 0 Posting Whiz

My first job on Wall Street was on the equity options floor of the Philadelphia Stock Exchange, running trades for Bear Stearns’ clients, mostly market maker and floor brokers trading on their own accounts or for affluent clients.

Options are a tricky beast, and I don’t recommend that average investors dive into them head first – but that’s exactly what a lot of frustrated investors seem to be doing thse days.

CNBC has a nice piece on the topic today, citing the growing number of “do-it-yourself-investors” who are turning to options as a quick fix to their now decimated investment portfolios, especially their 401k accounts.

“Valerie Scruggs started trading stock options after being laid off from her job as an IT manager two years ago. Scruggs, who lives on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, says at first it was a way to make ends meet. But then she started thinking about it for a primary income.”

“It seemed like a good way to make money no matter which way the market went,” Scruggs says.

“More investors like Scruggs are fed up with losing money in the markets and are starting to take control over their own finances. And with many portfolios down 50 percent over the past year, they feel they can't do any worse than their broker or financial adviser.

“There’s a broader trend of people feeling disenfranchised with the way the financial-services industry works,” says Kurt Oeler, a spokesman for optionMonster, a web site for investors to trade options. “They think: ‘I’ve got to be more active in managing my finances.' ”

CNBC reports that trading options is the investment du jour for this new band of investors. At a big options conference in New York recently, the room was packed with newbie investors – all there to figure out how to trade puts and calls – investments that allow them to buy and sell stock options at a specific time and a specific date.

At a recent optionMonster conference in New York City, attendance was up 20 percent from a November conference in Chicago, the company says. The people were there to learn the basics of trading options—financial contracts that give you the right to buy and sell securities at a set price, allowing you to bet on the future direction of the security without actually owning it.

If it’s really a trend, then it’s a dangerous one. Investors can lose money in the options market at light speeds higher than with traditional stocks. Sure, you can make a lot of money on options, too, but you really have to know what you’re doing. And most investors don’t. Hell, a lot of professionals don’t, for that matter.

In the tech market today, MicroStrategy’s CFO has quit, and the company’s stock has taken a dive today as a result. Wall Street absolutely hates it when CFO’s leave a company – fair or unfair, there’s always the perception that something is amiss financially, although the MicroStrategy situation doesn’t offer a hint of scandal. But that didn’t stop the company’s stock from falling $3, to $34 in mid-Friday trading.

Also, Oppenheimer analyst Gary Hsueh cites Novellus as a possible takeover target, and has consequently increased visibility on the company’s stock from “underperform” to “perform”. Hsueh’s reasons? He writes in a research statement that the company’s “era of share loss is at an end,” which makes valuation at 1.6x tangible book value too steep a discount versus peers. He also adds that NVLS should benefit from DRAM industry adoption of copper in the second half. But he also writes that investors can “no longer ignore NVLS as a potential M&A target.” That could double the current price of Novellus stock, citing a takeover target price of $23 per share. The stock is trading at about $17 per share in Friday trading.

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