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Don’t Trade Apple Earnings Without Reading This First

April 20, 2012

Apple Inc. (AAPL), the biggest publicly listed company on the planet is about to announce earnings on Apr 24th, after markets are closed. It is estimated that nearly 200+ Hedge funds have AAPL shares in their portfolio. And it is one of the most commonly talked about stock on almost every main stream financial media, website, forums, blogs, etc.

Here are some of the interesting things you may want to know before you go for that option trading strategy.

Since the last quarter earnings announcement, AAPL stock is up roughly 40% as of now (@$586 current market price). During this time, normally one would expect implied volatility (IV) to drop (and rise before next earning announcement). However, AAPL’s implied volatility (IV) almost doubled during this period!! (Find out what is Implied Volatility)

What's in Apple's store during this earning announcement?

What does that mean?

Let’s say you purchased 5 AAPL Oct 550 calls (almost 9 months life) on Jan 26th (after earning announcement and IV collapse). The cost was $880 per contract thus costing you $4,400 for 5 contracts. That each call today, had IV remained where it was i.e. 25% (Options IV is different from stock’s IV), will be worth $6200 (when AAPL is at $586). However due to rise in IV to 37.5% from 25% (for this specific option), the actual price is $8,100. Thus you have been rewarded an additional $1,900 per contract ($81-62= $19) just because of this unusual rise in IV. And your $4,400 investment would be worth $40,500 today including a full $9,500 due to just IV rise alone.

From another observation, Just as Implied volatility is rising, so is 10 day historical volatility (HV10). Usually, historical volatility is stable going into earning announcement. The rise in HV10 is driven by recent drop in AAPL is price.

For the first time since Mid December 2011, AAPL dropped below its 20days moving average on 13th April and since then it is finding hard to close above it. 50 days moving average is not too far ($569) either; and long term support of 200 days moving average is at $439. This bearish drop doesn’t mean, AAPL is headed for $439 but these are the key numbers that you may want to keep in mind when dealing with any scenario. All time high is $644.

Look at the Volatility Skew. The volatility skew between April weekly options (expires next week) and May Series is a huge 15 to 20%. And skew between May and June monthly options is another 4%. These are not small numbers for a stock like AAPL which represents lion’s share of the US stock market. If AAPL will sneeze, it is likely that rest of the market will catch cold.

The Magical SKEW in Apple Options

Financial portals and blogs will be filled with numerous option trading strategies on how you, the retail investor, can make money from this wonderful opportunity and one of the most common option trading strategy will be to sell straddle just before the market close. The straddle allows you to leverage decay and volatility crush.

Here is a chart that may provide some perspective (Courtesy-LiveVol) on how straddles have performed during past quarters. Mix, to say the least.

AAPL Straddle Performance (by LiveVol.com)

While most people will count return based on credit received by selling those options, the correct way to count return is based on capital employed. If you were to sell say AAPL weekly ATM 585 straddle today, it will cost you almost $17,000 in the margin and you will make $0 to $4,400 if AAPL is in between $540 and $630 by next Friday. If AAPL moves beyond these points, the losses can be substantial.

So let’s combine what we know-

  1.  AAPL IV almost doubled during the past quarter and elevated now for front, back and next month.
  2.  Stock has risen almost +50% in 3 months.
  3.  It has recently dropped below 20dma for the first time in 2012.
  4. There are almost 200+ hedge funds invested in this stock. What if, the 800 pound gorillas want to exits for whatever reasons?
  5. Goldman Sachs (GS) just upgraded the stock.

There is uncertainty and that’s what is reflected by the implied volatility.

(If you are looking for various option trading strategies to play earnings, here is an example of multiple trades for GOOG earnings, with results)

So, here are key things you may want to note, when you craft your strategy-

  1. A strategy that is long premium will face direct headwinds in terms of IV collapse.
  2. Any strategy that involves naked selling premium on a stock that has rallied +50% opens one to sharp tail risk.
  3.  Market neutral/ as known as delta neutral strategy may not work if stock moves sharply in either direction.

For now, this much. The post is becoming lengthy. I shall write more before the earning and I will be sharing some interesting ways to play AAPL earnings.

Remember to stay in touch via following my updates.
Profitable Trading.

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