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Follow-Up on AAPL Earnings-Announcement Strategy

Last week I told you about a spread I had placed on Apple (AAPL) just prior to their earnings announcement. I closed out that spread this week, and there was a learning experience that I would like to share with you.

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Follow-Up on AAPL Earnings-Announcement Strategy: Last Monday, prior to AAPL’s earnings announcement, I bought a diagonal spread, buying Jan-14 470 calls and selling the weekly Nov1-13 525 while the stock was selling just about $525. I made this trade because I felt good about the company and believed the stock might move higher after the announcement. As it worked out, I was wrong.

I paid $62.67 for the Jan-14 470 call and sold the Nov1-13 525 call for $17.28, shelling out a net $45.39 ($4539) for each spread. (Commissions on this trade at thinkorswim were $2.50). The intrinsic value of this spread was $55 (the difference between 525 and 470) which means if the stock moved higher, no matter how high it went, it would always be worth a minimum of $55, or almost $10 above what I paid for it. Since the Jan-14 calls had almost three more months of remaining life than the Nov1-13 calls I sold, they would be worth more (probably at least $5 more) than the intrinsic value when I planned to sell them on Friday.

So I knew that no matter how much the stock were to move higher, I was guaranteed a gain on Friday. If the stock managed to stay right at $525 and the Nov-1 525 call expired worthless (or I had to buy it back for a minimal amount), I stood to gain the entire $17.28 I had collected less a little that the Jan-14 call might decay in four days.

In the after-hours trading after the announcement, the stock shot up to the $535 area and I was feeling pretty good because I knew I was assured of a profit if the stock moved higher. However, the next morning, it reversed direction and traded as low as $515. I wasn’t feeling so great then, although I still expected to make a profit (albeit a smaller one).

On Thursday, the stock rose to about $525, just where it was when I bought the spread on Monday. There was still $2.50 of time premium remaining in the Nov1-13 call which I had sold, so I was tempted to wait until it was due to expire the next day so I might pick up another $250 per spread when I sold it. However, I decided to sell it at that time.

I sold the spread for $56.25, gaining $10.86, or $1076 per spread which had cost me $4539 on Monday. That worked out to a 21% gain for the four days.  I was happy with that result.

On Friday, AAPL fell back to about $517 at the close. The spread that I had sold for $56.25 was trading at about $53. I still would have made a profit, but it would have been much lower than the one I took on Thursday.

The lesson here is that when the stock is trading very near the strike price of your short call when you have a spread like this (either a diagonal or a calendar spread), it is a good idea to sell it rather than waiting until expiration day of the short option. While you give up some of the potential gain if the stock were to remain absolutely flat, you risk doing worse if the stock were to move more than moderately in either direction.

It is better to sell your diagonal spread whenever the strike price of your short option is very close to the strike price rather than waiting until the last minute to try to squeeze out every penny of decay that might be there. In this case, I was wrong about the stock moving higher – it fell about $10 and I still made over 20% on my investment for a single week.

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