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How to Play the Facebook (FB) Earnings Announcement

Facebook (FB) will announce earnings on April 27, and this presents an opportunity to make an investment similar to the one I suggested last week regarding Starbucks (SBUX). One of the SBUX trades has already resulted in a small profit and has a guaranteed additional profit which could be significant in two weeks when the post-announcement options expire. I hope you enjoy reading about the trades I made in FB this morning (and my reasoning behind them).

Terry

How to Play the Facebook (FB) Earnings Announcement

First of all, a quick update on the suggestion I made one week ago concerning the upcoming SBUX announcement on April 21st. At that time, with SBUX trading about $58.60, I suggested 3 different ways to play this announcement, all of which were based on the stock moving a bit higher in anticipation of that big day (a good deal of the time, stocks do move higher in advance of the earnings announcement day). All three trades have increased in value since last week because SBUX has indeed moved higher, and now trades about $60.50.

One of the suggestions involved legging into a May1-16 – Apr4-16 60 call calendar spread. This involved buying May1-16 60 calls outright with a plan to sell Apr4-16 60 calls if the stock moved higher or implied volatility (IV) of the Apr4-16 options rose (two things that frequently happen as the announcement date approaches).

I bought SBUX May1-16 calls for $1.12 ($112 per contract) plus $1.25 commission at the rate paid by Terry’s Tips subscribers at thinkorswim (if you are paying more than this as commission rate, you might consider opening an account at this brokerage – see the offer below).

I didn’t have to wait very long for the stock to move enough higher so that I could sell the Apr4-16 60 calls for more than I had paid for the May1-16 calls. On Tuesday, I completed the calendar spread at the 60 strike by selling Apr4-16 60 calls for $1.20 ($120 per contract less $1.25 commission). After commissions, I had gained $5.50 for each spread, and was guaranteed to make an additional gain once the Apr4-16 calls expired and I would presumably sell the calendar spread. Since the May1-16 calls have two weeks more of remaining life than the Apr4-16 calls, the spread will always have at least some value. The closer the stock is to $60, the greater the value of the spread. If I am lucky enough to see it end up at $60 on April 22, I could expect to collect about $80 for each spread (on top of the $5.50 I already have collected).

While there is something nice about holding something that already has a small gain locked in, and there is still hope for a decent gain in two weeks, in retrospect, I wish I had completed the calendar on only half my positions. The stock rose to $61 and at the end of the week I could have sold the Apr4 calls for $.20 more than I did. I expected the stock to move higher in the week going into the announcement but it moved higher earlier than that. It probably still has room to climb over the next two weeks, but now I am locked in to a smaller gain than I could have made by waiting.

We are faced with a similar situation with Facebook which announces on the 27th. The May2-16 options series which expires two weeks after this date carries an IV of 37 which compares to 40 for the Apr4 series which expires just after the announcement (it is always nice to sell options with a higher IV than those that you buy). As the 27th approaches, IV for the Apr5-16, May1-16, and May2-16 series may move even higher (i.e., the option prices will increase even if the stock price remains flat).

I like to buy calendar spreads at a strike which is a couple of dollars higher than the current stock price in anticipation of the stock moving higher in the weeks or days leading up to the announcement. Today, FB fell about $4 because Deutsche Bank analyst Ross Sandler cautioned that its Q1 numbers may come in shy of high expectations, allowing investors to add to positions below current levels. There was also some disquieting news about the company’s Oculus Rift virtual reality headset. Initial product reviews were tepid and there will be some delivery problems at first (possibly due to too many sets being ordered?). In any event, the stock traded down to about $112.25 when I placed the following orders this morning.

First, I bought May2-16 114 calls for $4.40 ($440 plus $1.25 per contract, or $441.25). I then placed a good-til-cancelled order to sell Apr5-16 114 calls for $4.50. If this order is executed sometime in the next couple of weeks, I will have all my money back plus a little (including commissions) and will wait until April 29 to see how big my profit will be (the closer to $114 that FB is, the greater will be my gain). It could be as high as $200 per contract (the expected value of a FB at-the-money call with two weeks of remaining life (and an IV of 27).

In addition to buying May2-16 calls with the intention of legging into a calendar spread, I made the following two trades this morning:

Buy To Open 10 FB May2-16 114 calls (FB160513C114)
Sell To Open 10 FB Apr5-16 114 calls (FN160429C114) for a debit of $.60 (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 10 FB May2-16 114 puts (FB160513P114)
Sell To Open 10 FB Apr5-16 114 puts (FN160429P114) for a debit of $.55 (buying a calendar)

You might notice that these are identical calendar spreads except that one is with calls and the others with puts. One thing we have learned is that the strike price is what is important with calendar spreads, not whether puts or calls are used. The risk profile is identical with either puts or calls (even though this does not make much intuitive sense).

These calendar spreads have sold the options which expire just after the announcement and these options carry the highest IV of any option series (i.e., they are the most expensive of all option series). I like these spreads because they are so cheap, and you can’t lose the entire investment no matter what. The value of your long options will always be higher than the value of the options you have sold because they have two weeks of additional remaining life.

Assuming IV of the May2-16 options will fall to about 27 (from the current 37), an at-the-money two-week option would carry a premium of at least $2.00 (the CBOE option calculator comes up with a $2.40 price). This would about triple your money if you sold the spread at this price. There is a good chance that IV might not fall that far. It is 31 for the Apr4-16 series that expires just before announcement week, for example. So it might be possible to sell the at-the-money spread for more than $2.00.

My best guess is that the call calendar spread could be sold at a profit on April 29th if FB is at any price within $4 of $114, and the put calendar spread could be sold at a profit if FB is at any price within $5 of $114.

If there is a big move in the price of FB in the next couple of weeks, I would probably buy more of these same calendar spreads at different strike prices. This would increase my chances of having at least some spreads at a strike which is close to the stock price and where the greatest profit potential lies. If FB moves up to $116, for example, I might buy some calendars at the 118 strike to expand the range of possible stock prices that would give me a net profit. I figure if I triple my money on one spread I could lose everything (an impossibility) on the other spread and still come out ahead.

I will report back to you on how these trades end up, or if I add any more spreads at different strike prices. Most companies report earnings each quarter, and there will be lots of opportunities to use these trading ideas on other companies you might like.

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