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Comparing Calendar and Diagonal Spreads in an Earnings Play

Last week, in one of our Terry’s Tips portfolios, we placed calendar spreads with strikes about $5 above and below the stock price of ULTA which announced earnings after the close on Thursday. We closed out our spreads on Friday and celebrated a gain of 86% after commissions for the 4-day investment. It was a happy day.

This week, this portfolio will be making a similar investment in Broadcom (AVGO) which announces earnings on Thursday, December 8. I would like to tell you a little about these spreads and also answer the question of whether calendar or diagonal spreads might be better investments.


Comparing Calendar and Diagonal Spreads in an Earnings Play

Using last Friday’s closing option prices, below are the risk profile graphs for Broadcom (AVGO) for options that will expire Friday, December 9, the day after earnings are announced. Implied volatility for the 9Dec16 series is 68 compared to 35 for the 13Jan17 series (we selected the 13Jan17 series because IV was 3 less than it was for the 20Jan17 series). The graphs assume that IV for the 13Jan17 series will fall from 35 to 30 after the announcement. We believe that this is a reasonable expectation.

The first graph shows the expected profit and loss at the various prices where the stock might end up after the announcement. Note that the maximum expected gain in both graphs is almost identical and it occurs at any ending price between $160 and $170. The first graph has calendar spreads at the 160 strike (using puts) and the 170 strike (using calls). The cost of placing those spreads would be $2375 at the mid-point of the spread quotes (your actual cost would probably be slightly higher than this, plus commissions). The maximum gain occurs if the stock ends up between $160 and $170 on Friday (it closed at $164.22 last Friday), and if our assumptions about IV are correct, the gain would exceed 50% for the week if it does end up in that range.

AVGO Calendar Spreads December 2016

AVGO Calendar Spreads December 2016

This second graph shows the expected results from placing diagonal spreads in the same two series, buying both puts and calls which are $5 out of the money (i.e., $5 lower than the strike being sold for puts and $5 higher than the strike being sold for calls). These spreads cost far less ($650) but would involve a maintenance requirement of $2500, making the total amount tied up $3150.

We also checked what the situation might be if you bought diagonal spreads where the long side was $5 in the money. Once again, the profit curve was essentially identical, but the cost of the spreads was significantly greater, $4650. Since the profit curve is essentially identical for both the calendar spreads and the diagonal spreads, and the total investment of the calendar spreads is less than it would be for the diagonal spreads, the calendar spreads are clearly the better choice.

AVGO Diagonal Spreads December 2016

AVGO Diagonal Spreads December 2016

AVGO has a long record of exceeding estimates. In fact, it has bested expectations every quarter for the last three years. The stock does not always go higher after the announcement, however, and the average recent change has been 6.5%, or about $7.40. If it moves higher or lower than $7.40 on Friday than where it closed last Friday, the risk profile graph shows that we should make a gain of some sort (if IV of the 13Jan17 options does not fall more than 5).

You can’t lose your entire investment with calendar spreads because your long options have more weeks or months of remaining life, and will always be worth more than the options you sold to someone else. But you can surely lose money if the stock fluctuates too much. Options involve risk and are leveraged investments, and you should only invest money that you can truly afford to lose.

Happy trading.


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