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How to Set Up a Pre-Earnings Announcement Options Strategy

One of the best times to set up an options strategy is just before a company announces earnings.  Today I would like to share our experience doing this last month with Facebook (FB) last month.  I hope you will read all the way through – there is some important information there.If you missed them, be sure to check out the short videos which explains why I like calendar spreads , and  How to Make Adjustments to Calendar and Diagonal Spreads.


How to Set Up a Pre-Earnings Announcement Options Strategy

When a company reports results each quarter, the stock price often fluctuates far more than usual, depending on how well the company performs compared both to past performance and to the market’s collective level of expectations.  Anticipating a big move one way or another, just prior to the announcement, option prices skyrocket, both puts and calls.

At Terry’s Tips, our basic strategy involves selling short-term options to others (using longer-term options as collateral for making those sales).  One of the absolute best times for us is the period just before an upcoming earnings announcement. That is when we can collect the most premium.

An at-the-money call (stock price and strike price are the same) for a call with a month of remaining life onFacebook (FB) trades for about $3 ($300 per call).  If that call expires shortly after an earnings announcement, it will trade for about $4.80.  That is a significant difference. In options parlance, option prices are “high” or “low” depending on their implied volatility (IV).  IV is much higher for all options series in the weeks before the announcement.  IV is at its absolute highest in the series that expires just after the announcement.  Usually that is a weekly option series.

Here are IV numbers for FB at-the-money calls before and after the November 4th earnings announcement:

One week option life before, IV = 57  One week option life after, IV = 25
Two week option life before, IV = 47  Two week option life after, IV = 26
One month option life before, IV =38  One month option life after, IV = 26
Four month option life before, IV = 35  Four month option life after, IV = 31

These numbers clearly show that when you are buying a 4-month-out call (March, IV=35) and selling a one-week out call (IV=57), before an announcement, you are buying less expensive options (lower IV) than those which you are selling. After the announcement, this gets reversed.  The short-term options you are selling are relatively less expensive than the ones you are buying.  Bottom line, before the announcement, you are buying low and selling high, and after the announcement, you are buying high and selling low.

You can make a lot of money buying a series of longer-term call options and selling short-term calls at several strike prices in the series that expires shortly after the announcement.  If the long and short sides of your spread are at the same strike price, you call it a calendar spread, and if the strikes are at different prices, it is called a diagonal spread.

Calendar and diagonal spreads essentially work the same, with the important point being the strike price of the short option that you have sold.  The maximum gain for your spread will come if the stock price ends up exactly at that strike price when the option expires.  If you can correctly guess the price of the stock after the announcement, you can make a ton of money.

But as we all know, guessing the short-term price of a stock is a really tough thing to do, especially when you are trying to guess where it might end up shortly after the announcement.  You never know how well the company has done, or more importantly, how the market will react to how the company has performed.  For that reason, we recommend selecting selling short-term options at several different strike prices.  This increases your chances of having one short strike which gains you the maximum amount possible.

Here are the positions held in our actual FB portfolio at Terry’s Tips on Friday, October 30th, one week before the Nov-1 15 calls would expire just after FB announced earnings on November 4th:

Foxy Face Book Positions Nov 2015

Foxy Face Book Positions Nov 2015

We owned calls which expired in March 2016 at 3 different strikes (97.5, 100, and 105) and we were short calls with one week of remaining life at 4 different strikes (103, 105, 106, and 107). There was one calendar spread at the 105 strike and all the others were diagonal spreads.  We owned 2 more calls than we were short.  This is often part of our strategy just before announcement day.  A fairly large percent of the time, the stock moves higher in the day or two before the announcement as anticipation of a positive report kicks in.  We planned to sell another call before the announcement, hopefully getting a higher price than we would have received earlier.  (We sold a Nov1-15 204 call for $2.42 on Monday).  We were feeling pretty positive about the stock, and maintained a more bullish (higher net delta position) than we normally do.

Here is the risk profile graph for the above positions.  It shows our expected gain or loss one week later (after the announcement) when the Nov1-15 calls expired:

Foxy Face Book Rick Profile Graph Nov 2015

Foxy Face Book Rick Profile Graph Nov 2015

When we produced this graph, we instructed the software to assume that IV for the Mar-16 calls would fall from 35 to 30 after the announcement.  If we hadn’t done that, the graph would have displayed unrealistically high possible returns.  You can see with this assumption, a flat stock price should result in a $300 gain, and if the stock rose $2 or higher, the gain would be in the $1000 range (maybe a bit higher if the stock was up just moderately because of the additional $242 we collected from selling another call).

So what happened?  FB announced earnings that the market liked.  The stock soared from about $102 to about $109 after the announcement (but then fell back a bit on Friday, closing at $107.10).  We bought back the expiring Nov1-15 calls (all of which were in the money on Thursday or Friday) and sold further-out calls at several strike prices to get set up for the next week.   The portfolio gained $1301 in value, rising from $7046 to $8347, up 18.5% for the week.  This is just a little better than our graph predicted.  The reason for the small difference is that IV for the March calls fell only to 31, and we had estimated that it would fall to 30.

You can see why we like earnings announcement time, especially when we are right about the direction the stock moves.  In this case, we would have made a good gain no matter how high the stock might go (because we had one uncovered long call).  Most of the time, we select short strikes which yield a risk profile graph with more downside protection and limited upside potential (a huge price rise would yield a lower gain, and possibly a loss).

One week earlier, in our Starbucks (SBUX) portfolio, we had another earnings week.  SBUX had a positive earnings report, but the market was apparently disappointed with guidance and the level of sales in China, and the stock was pushed down a little after the announcement.  Our portfolio managed to gain 18% for the week.

Many people would be happy with 18% a year on their invested capital, and we have done it in a single week in which an earnings announcement took place.  We look forward to having three more such weeks when reporting season comes around once again over the course of a year, both for these two underlyings and the 4 others we also trade (COST, NKE, JNJ, and SPY).
“I have confidence in your system…I have seen it work very well…currently I have had a first 100% gain, and am now working to diversify into more portfolios.  Goldman/Sachs is also doing well – up about 40%…

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