By Saqib Iqbal Ahmed
NEW YORK (Reuters) - As Facebook Inc <FB.O> geared up to report second-quarter results on Wednesday, traders in the options market are exhibiting a greater degree of bullishness in more than a year, options data showed.
The stock, which hit an all-time high of $166.17 on Monday, has climbed 43 percent this year, outperforming the 23 percent gain for the S&P 500 Tech sector <.SPLRCT>.
But far from being uneasy about the lofty heights the stock has scaled, traders instead have been busy betting on the shares to move higher.
"The overall flavor of trading in Facebook's options has been decidedly bullish," said David Russell, senior manager at online broker E*Trade Financial Corp, in Chicago.
"Traders have been looking to the upside consistently."
The bullish activity stands out even for a sector that has performed well this year, Russell said.
There are about 1.7 Facebook call options open for each open put contract, the most since late April 2016, according to options analytics firm Trade Alert data.
Calls convey the right to buy shares at a fixed price in the future and are usually used to bet on shares rising. Put options give the right to sell shares at a certain price in the future and are bought to profit declining shares.
(For a graphic on 'Performance over last year: Facebook vs. S&P 500 Tech Sector' click http://reut.rs/2eLryu4)
Much of the bullish positioning is concentrated in options contracts expiring in the near term. For contracts expiring between now and mid-September, calls account for nine of the 10 largest blocks of open contracts.
Facebook's weekly options contracts imply a 4.6 percent swing in the shares, in either direction, by Friday. That is in line with how much the shares have moved, on average, over the last eight quarters, the day after the company posts results.
A move to the upside would snap a three-quarter losing streak, when the shares fell on the day after the company reported results.
The bullish signal from the options market is in step with how most Wall Street analysts covering the stock view it. Of the 44 brokerages that cover the company, 40 have a positive recommendation on the shares, according to Thomson Reuters data.
"We continue to like Facebook based on its continued usage gains, advertiser growth, emerging opportunities and ability to execute," Macquarie Research analyst Benjamin Schachter said in a research note to clients on Monday.
The brokerage raised its target price on Facebook shares to $175 from $160, and reaffirmed its "outperform' rating.
(Reporting by Saqib Iqbal Ahmed; Editing by Daniel Bases, Bernard Orr)