Today I would like to share with you an options investment I made yesterday, just prior to the Apple (AAPL) earnings announcement. While it is too late to make this same investment yourself, you might consider it three months from now when announcement time comes around again, or with another company that you feel good about.
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An AAPL Earnings-Announcement Strategy: Approximately every 90 days, most public companies announce their latest quarterly earnings. Just before the announcement day, things get interesting with option prices. Since stocks often make big moves in either direction once earnings (and other numbers such as gross sales, margins, and future guidance) are announced, option prices get quite expensive, both for puts and for calls.
For people who like to collect high option premiums (i.e., selling expensive options to someone else), this pre-announcement period seems like a great opportunity provided I have a feeling one way or the other about the company. I had a good feeling about AAPL this month. I wasn’t sure what earnings might be (beware of anyone who says he is sure), but I thought the company was fairly priced, and I think the huge stash of cash they are sitting on provides some protection against a large drop in the stock price.
When a situation like this occurs (where I like a company and earnings are about to be announced), one of my favorite strategies is to buy a deep in-the-money call on the company, a call that has a few months of remaining life, and sell an at-the-money call in the shortest-term option series that expires after the announcement day.
On Monday morning, AAPL was trading about $525. I bought a diagonal spread, buying Jan-14 470 calls and selling Nov1-13 525 calls (AAPL has weekly options available, and the Nov1-13 calls would expire on Friday, November 1st , four days after the announcement after the close on Monday.
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. A flat market would net me about a 36% gain on my investment, and any higher price for AAPL would result in at least a 25% gain.
After a company makes its announcement, all option prices tend to fall, especially in the shortest-term series that expires just after the announcement. However, deep in-the-money options like the one I bought derive most of their value from being so deep in the money, and they generally do not fall nearly as much as shorter-term, nearer-the-money options.
On the downside, the stock could fall at least $20 before I would incur a loss. Since the delta of the Jan-14 470 call was 80, if the stock fell $20, my long call might fall about $16 ($20 x .80). That would still be less than the $17.28 I collected from the 525 which would expire worthless so I would still make a gain.
Actually, as the stock falls in value, delta for an in-the-money call gets lower, and the Jan-14 call would fall by less than $16. The stock could probably go down at least $25 before I lost money with my original spread.
In the event that AAPL fell over $25 so I lost some money on the spread, since I like the company and it is now trading for only $500, I might want to hang onto my 470 call rather than selling it on Friday. I might sell another 525 (or other strike) call with a few weeks of remaining life, reducing my initial investment by that amount.
I like to make an investment that could make 25% or more in a single week if a company I like stays flat or goes higher by any amount after an announcement, and the stock can fall about 10% and I still make a gain. A more conservative investment would be to sell an in-the-money call rather than an at-the-money call. While the potential maximum gain would be less, you could handle a much greater drop in the stock value before you entered loss territory on the downside.