Note: There is a lot of valuable information in this report for anyone who trades stock options. It will take you about 15 minutes to read, but that investment in your time could be worth thousands of dollars to you down the line. I hope you will read it thoroughly all the way to the end.
On April’s Fools Day in 2013, we opened a new $5000 portfolio at Terry’s Tips. We thought that might be a lucky day to start. For several months we had been studying what happens just before and after a company announces their quarterly earnings, and this portfolio was designed to put our observations to work.
The biggest thing we discovered in our analysis was that the post-announcement change in the stock price was determined more by market expectations prior to the announcement than the actual earnings themselves. If you have played in the stock market for any length of time, you surely have lived through an earnings announcement when your favorite company exceeded estimates on all scores, and the stock fell on the news. That really hurts, and I’m sure we all have felt it.
We have concluded that it is all due to what the market was expecting vs. its experience of the actual earnings.
Most of the time, we measured expectations by what the stock had done in the weeks leading up to the announcement and the difference between what analysts predicted earnings would be and the whisper numbers (we also check out RSI numbers to see if the stock is particularly over-sold or over-bought, and recent company performance at earnings time related to results vs. estimates).
When the stock has had a big run-up before the announcement and whisper numbers were greater than analyst expectations, we concluded that expectations were uncomfortably high, and the least disappointment in the announcement (concerning earnings, revenues, margins, or guidance) might result in the stock trading lower even if the company surpassed earnings by a comfortable margin.
We called it the PEA Picker portfolio (PEA stands for Pre-Earnings Announcement). We restricted the companies that we would consider to those which traded Weeklys approximately 160). We eliminated companies trading for less than $20 because option prices were typically not attractive enough for our purposes. We ended up with about 100 companies which are the most actively-traded and have the most liquid option markets (i.e., small bid – ask spreads and the assurance that decent spread prices could be executed).
Even more important, we could trade out of them on the Friday following the announcement, just a few days after placing our trades. This eliminated being concerned about the long-run prospects for the company and put us in cash at the end of the week so we could invest in another company in the following week. We like near-instant gratification on our trades, bad or good, and we like to sleep over the weekend with no positions in place (most of the time).
In addition to checking recent stock price action and whisper numbers, we looked carefully at the last four earnings reports to see what happened, and to the most recent RSI numbers to learn if the stock were unusually over-bought or over-sold. Some companies consistently exceeded expectations and their stock fell after the announcement while others merely met expectations and the stock moved higher.
Many times we were able to detect patterns that helped us decide which option spreads we would use. One pattern was that big moves after announcements tended to be reversed at the next announcement (or more often, big moves were rarely followed by big moves in the same direction at the next announcement).
The day after the PEA Picker portfolio was set up, we issued the following Trade Alert. By the way, this portfolio is carried out in an actual TD Ameritrade/thinkorswim portfolio and all commissions are included at the special rate offered to Terry’s Tips Insiders. All of the Trade Alerts in this report are actual emails that were sent to Terry’s Tips Insiders and to thinkorswim so they could execute trades through Auto-Trade. Our account is set up through Auto-Trade so every trade reported here was exactly duplicated in the accounts of all our subscribers who set up through Auto-Trade at thinkorswim.
This first trade involved buying a straddle which we bought before the Weeklys which expired on the Friday after the announcement were available. This not the usual way we set up PEA Plays but we do it sometimes, obviously.
We had decided that expectations were unusually low and the stock would head higher after the announcement, but the first trade was neutral (it would make money if the stock headed either way, just as long as it moved).
April 2, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio
J.P. Morgan (JPM) announces earnings next week and the Weeklys that become available on Thursday will be the options with the escalated implied volatility (IV). We will establish some long positions before that time. The stock is trading very close to $48 right now so the straddle price is at its lowest. The straddle might gain for two reasons – first, leading up to an announcement the stock quite often moves (usually higher), and second, implied volatility (IV) of the monthly options usually moves higher once the Weeklys become available:
BTO (Buy To Open) 20 JPM Apr-13 48 calls (JPM130420C48)
BTO 20 JPM Apr-13 48 puts (JPM130420P48) for a debit of $1.88 (buying a straddle)
Two days later, we issued the following:
April 4, 2013 Trade Alert #2 – PEA Picker Portfolio
There are many reasons to believe that the stock is headed higher after earnings and we are currently negative net delta. This trade will make us long:
STO (Sell To Open) 15 JPM Apr2-13 47 puts (JPM130420P47) for $.58
We held these positions (which cost us a net $2041) until shortly before earnings were to be announced after the close on April 10. The stock had moved about two dollars higher as we had anticipated. We issued the following:
April 10, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio
The stock moved up almost $2 and IV also moved up. We have a nice gain here so we might as well take it rather than waiting for more (or maybe less) once earnings are reported:
BTC 15 JPM APR2-13 47 puts (JPM130412P47)
STC 15 JPM Apr-13 48 puts (JPM130420P48) for a credit of $.25 (selling a diagonal)
STC 5 JPM Apr-13 48 puts (JPM130420P48) for $.30
STC 20 JPM Apr-13 48 calls (JPM130420C48) for $1.74
This first PEA Play was a little complicated (future ones will make more sense, I promise). You can see that we sold the original straddle (which had cost us $1.88) for a total of $2.04 ($1.74 + $.30). It is not so clear to see that the 15 Apr2-13 47 puts we had sold for $.58 were bought back for only $.05 (this was where most of our gain was). After commissions, we made a profit of $789 on our $2061 investment, or about 38% of the money we had invested. The portfolio as a whole had gained only 15.8% because we had invested only about 40% of the cash at our disposal.
The next week featured the Google (GOOG) announcement. We noticed that the GOOG options were expecting a move of 12.3% yet the average post-announcement move had historically been only 6.7%. (You can calculate the percentage change that the options are predicting by adding up the time premium of the at-the-money Weekly put and call and dividing that total by the stock price.) While we would have liked to sell the straddle short, that is not possible in an IRA account, and we do not make any trades for our subscribers which cannot be executed in an IRA.
Our choice was to buy diagonal spreads at strikes both comfortably above and below the stock price. We issued the following:
April 15, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio
This is a small bet that Google will not deviate by more than $40 from its present level of $790 after this week’s announcement:
BTO 1 GOOG May-13 785 put (GOOG130518P785)
STO 1 GOOG Apr-13 765 put (GOOG130420P765) for a debit of $13.51 (buying a diagonal)
BTO 1 GOOG May-13 820 call (GOOG130518C820)
STO 1 GOOG Apr-13 830 call (GOOG130429C830) for a debit of $8.02 (buying a diagonal)
The total amount invested here was $2158 including commissions.
Again, these trades are a little unlike our usual PEA Plays, but the key point is that the stock would have to fall by $25 before the short 765 puts would have any value. If the stock fell by that much, or more, the May-13 785 put would be worth at least $2000 more than the short put value (and there would still be some value in the May-13 820 call), so there would be a gain no matter how far the stock might fall.
If the stock were to move $40 higher, the 830 call would have some value, but the May-13 820 call will always be worth at least $1000 more than the 830 short call (and actually, quite a bit more because the option would be very close to the money and there would be a full month of time remaining in that option). In short, it appeared that a gain would come no matter how high the stock might go. However, while these spreads gave us excellent protection if there was a large move in either direction, if the stock didn’t move much there was the possibility of a loss. We corrected that three days later when we issued the following Trade Alert:
April 18, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio
The stock has fallen more than $20 since we placed the first spreads. This is an indication that expectations have dwindled, and the stock might move higher. These trades will give us a little more upside protection in case it rallies and also protects the mid-range from the extremes of the diagonal spreads we placed earlier:
BTO 1 GOOG May-13 780 call (GOOG130518C780)
STO 1 GOOG Apr-13 780 call (GOOG130429C780) for a debit of $4.60 (buying a calendar)
BTO 1 GOOG May-13 790 call (GOOG130518C790)
STO 1 GOOG Apr-13 790 call (GOOG130429C790) for a debit of $4.75 (buying a calendar)
The stock ended up trading between $780 and $790, just where these calendar spreads would do best. We sold them for $11.52 and $11.80, well more than doubling our money on those spreads. We lost a little money on the original diagonal spreads, closing out the puts for $15.92 and the calls for $3.90 (for a total of $19.82 compared to our cost of $21.53).
We lost $176 on the diagonal spreads and gained $1392 on the calendar spreads, making the total gain after commissions for the week a healthy $1216 on an investment of $3,098, or 39%. We plan to make similar investments with Google options in July when the next earnings announcement is scheduled.
Next up was the eBay earnings announcement. This occurred during the same week as the Google play, and we had spare cash we could put to use:
April 16, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio
eBay is flirting with a new high and whisper numbers exceed estimates. This level of expectation usually results in a flat or lower stock price after the announcement, and this spread should make gains if the stock rises moderately or falls by any amount:
BTO 10 EBAY May-13 60 calls (EBAY130518C60)
STO 10 EBAY Apr-13 57.5 calls (EBAY130420C57.5) for a credit of $.16 (buying a diagonal)
This spread required a maintenance requirement of $2500 (less the $160 received).
The stock did manage to fall, and by quite a bit, the Apr-13 57.5 calls expired worthless and we were only able to sell the May-13 60 calls for $.07 ($70) so we managed to make a small gain of $230 less $75 commissions on our eBay play (7%).
The portfolio value had soared to $7,187 in its first two weeks of trading. We withdrew $2000 from the portfolio so that Terry’s Tips subscribers could follow PEA Picker trades for about $5000 (either through Auto-Trade at thinkorswim where they don’t have to place any trades themselves, or on their own if they preferred another broker).
Next up was Apple (trading at about $405):
April 22, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio – limit orders
Expectations for Apple seem to be unusually low and when earnings are announced after the close tomorrow there is a good chance that it will trade higher:
BTO 5 AAPL May-13 410 calls (AAPL130518C410)
STO 5 AAPL Apr4-13 410 calls (AAPL130426C410) for a debit limit of $3.85 (buying a calendar)
BTO 5 AAPL May-13 420 calls (AAPL130518C410)
STO 5 AAPL Apr4-13 420 calls (AAPL130426C410) for a debit limit of $3.65 (buying a calendar)
The stock did move higher and the next day we issued the following:
April 23, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio
The stock has moved up $15 since we bought our spreads. We should use our remaining cash to add on another calendar at a higher strike:
BTO 4 AAPL May-13 430 calls (AAPL130518C430)
STO 4 AAPL Apr4-13 430 calls (AAPL130426C430) for a debit limit of $3.16 (buying a calendar)
The stock closed at $417.20 on Friday. We sold the 430 spread for $3.14 (incurring a loss of $28 after commissions), the 420 spread for $6.86 and the 410 spread for $4.66, both at nice gains totaling $1960 after commissions. Net gain for the trades was $1982 on an investment of $5049, or 39%.
The portfolio value had climbed to $7062 and it was time to withdraw another $2000 from the portfolio to allow new Terry’s Tips subscribers to follow it for about the starting value of $5000.
Next up was Storage Technology (STX):
May 1, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio
There are a lot of reasons to believe that Seagate (STX) will move higher after today’s announcement following the close. The company has exceeded expectations every quarter for the last year and sells at a trailing p/e of only 6.4 in spite of consistent growth and a 4.2% dividend. The company is aggressively buying back shares – in the last six months of 2012, it reduced the outstanding shares by 9.5% and has plans to continue buying back shares. Whisper numbers are higher than analyst expectations ($1.31 vs. $1.19) but the shares are trading lower than they were three weeks ago which suggests that expectations are not unusually high. These positions should make gains if the stock falls only a small amount or goes up by any reasonable amount:
BTO 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37)
STO 4 STX May1-13 36.5 calls (STX130503C36.5) for a debit of $.44 (buying a diagonal)
BTO 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37) for $1.66
BTO 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37)
STO 4 STX May1-13 37 calls (STX130503C37) for a debit of $.68 (buying a calendar)
BTO 8 STX Jun-13 38 calls (STX130622C38)
STO 8 STX May1-13 38 calls (STX130503C38) for a debit of $.66 (buying a calendar)
BTO 8 STX Jun-13 34 puts (STX130622P34)
STO 8 STX May1-13 34 puts (STX130503P34) for a debit of $.78 (buying a calendar)
The next day the stock moved up over a dollar and we wanted to get a little longer so we placed these trades:
May 2, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio – limit orders
This trade will pick up a little premium and make us neutral net delta:
BTC 4 STX May1-13 36.5 calls (STX130503C36.5)
STO 4 STX May1-13 39.5 calls (STX130503C39.5) for a debit limit of $2.45 (buying a vertical)
We will take these spreads off:
BTC 4 STX May1-13 37 calls (STX130503C37)
STC 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37) for a credit limit of $.50 (selling a calendar)
BTC 8 STX May1-13 34 puts (STX130503P34) for a limit of $.01 (no commission)
STC 8 STX Jun-13 34 puts (STX130622P34) for a limit of $.31
Note: thinkorswim does not charge a commission when you buy back short options for $.05 or less.
These were our closing transactions:
May 3, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio – limit orders
We need to close these out today:
BTC 8 STX May1-13 38 calls (STX130503C38)
STC 8 STX Jun-13 38 calls (STX130622C38) for a credit limit of $.37 (selling a calendar)
BTC 4 STX May1-13 39.5 calls (STX130503C39.5)
STC 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37) for a credit limit of $2.68 (selling a diagonal)
STC 4 STX Jun-13 37 calls (STX130622C37) for $4.45
The stock had shot up 11% after announcing earnings. While we correctly guessed the direction of the change, we didn’t quite expect it would be that large. We lost money on all the spreads we had placed, but the four extra uncovered Jun-13 37 calls rose enough to cover all the losses. It was our worst week so far. We gained only $161 which worked out to be 6.4% on our investment and 3.2% on the portfolio value.
Next up was Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR), a company I have followed since its founding since I live in Vermont and have played tennis regularly with the founder (now ex-chairman) of the company (no, he never gives me any tips, darn it). I have made a great deal of money betting on the company this year (while it has risen nearly four-fold from its low). I wrote a Seeking Alpha article outlining why I believed that the company would exceed estimates on earnings but the stock might be flat or fall a little after the announcement – How To Play The Green Mountain Coffee Roaster…
This is the trade I recommended in that article:
May 6, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio
As we indicated in the Saturday Report, we will make this trade:
BTO 12 GMCR Jun-13 52.5 calls (GMCR130622C52.5)
STO 12 GMCR May2-13 57 calls (GMCR130510C57) for a debit of $3.78 (buying a diagonal)
Two days later, my prognosis of the earnings was right on the money, but the company unexpectedly announced a new five-year deal with Starbucks which removed much of the uncertainty about the company. The stock soared by 25%!
If this announcement had not been made I feel certain that our spread would have gained about 50%, but with such a huge gain in the stock, we had to settle for less:
May 9, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio – limit order
The stock has gone up so far that we can expect to collect little more than the intrinsic value of this spread:
BTC 12 GMCR May2-13 57 calls (GMCR130510C57)
STC 12 GMCR Jun-13 52.5 calls (GMCR130622C52.5) for a credit limit of $4.53 (selling a diagonal)
We “only” made 18.5% after commissions for the trades. The wonderful thing about options is that you can be wrong and still make a gain much of the time, as we managed to do this time around.
The PEA Picker portfolio was now all in cash and was worth $6,065. It was time to withdraw another $1000. Subscribers who followed our trades or participated in Auto-Trade now had all $5000 they originally invested back, and the portfolio was still worth over $5000, It had only been 38 days since our first trade.
Next week we made two PEA Plays, one on Deere & Company and the other on Sina Corporation (SINA). I wrote Seeking Alpha articles in advance of both plays –How To Play The Deere & Company Earnings Anno… and How To Play The Sina Corporation Earnings Ann…
May 14, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio – limit orders
We will invest about half our cash in this play as described in the Saturday Report:
BTO 8 DE Jun-13 95 puts (DE130622P95)
STO 8 DE May-13 92.5 puts (DE130518P92.5) for a debit limit of $2.35 (buying a diagonal)
BTO 4 DE Jun-13 90 puts (DE130622P90)
STO 4 DE May-13 90 puts (DE130518P90) for a debit limit of $.93 (buying a calendar)
We thought expectations were running high (whisper numbers well above analyst expectations and the stock had traded higher going into the announcement) so we were betting on a flat or down market after the announcement. In addition, for the prior four quarters, Deere had traded lower (by about 4%) after earnings, even though they exceeded estimates most of the time.
We were not disappointed. Even though the company announced earnings that were above estimates, their guidance was tepid. The stock fell about $4 after the announcement. We took off our diagonal spread the same day:
May 15, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio – LIMIT ORDER
We will take off this spread if can get this price:
BTC 8 DE May-13 92.5 puts (DE130518P92.5)
STC 8 DE Jun-13 95 puts (DE130622P95) for a credit limit of $2.72 (selling a diagonal)
We closed out the calendar spread on Friday, selling it for $1.42. Our gain on the trades was $176 for each spread after commissions, or $352 total on an investment of $2282, or 15%.
In the same week we made a second PEA Play, this one on Sina:
May 14, 2013 Trade Alert #2 – PEA Picker Portfolio – limit orders
We will invest about half our cash in this play:
BTO 7 SINA Jun-13 55 puts (SINA130622P55)
STO 7 SINA May-13 55 puts (SINA130518P55) for a debit limit of $1.17 (buying a calendar)
BTO 7 SINA Jun-13 57.5 puts (SINA130622P57.5)
STO 7 SINA May-13 57.5 puts (SINA130518P57.5) for a debit limit of $1.28 (buying a calendar)
BTO 7 SINA Jun-13 60 calls (SINA130622C60)
STO 7 SINA May-13 60 calls (SINA130518C60) for a debit limit of $1.30 (buying a calendar)
On the day before earnings were announced, we added another spread:
May 16, 2013 Trade Alert – PEA Picker Portfolio – limit order
If Sina stock rallies more than 5% we will lose money on our spreads. This trade will expand our upside protection a little and still give us coverage for almost a 10% drop on the downside:
BTO 4 SINA Jun-13 57.5 puts (SINA130622P57.5)
STO 4 SINA May-13 60 puts (SINA130518P60) for a debit of $.10 (buying a diagonal)
We had expected Sina to fall after the earnings announcement because expectations were so high, but we left ourselves with a little room for the stock to move higher in case we were wrong. The extra trade ended up being a good one because the stock opened up almost $2 higher but then fell back over a dollar mid-day. We sold the 4 diagonal put spread for $.93, making $352 after commissions. The 55 put calendar spread was sold for a loss ($.70), the 57.5 put calendar spread for a small gain ($1.35), and the 60 call calendar was sold for a nice gain ($2.05). After commissions, the Sina options were closed out for a $525 gain, or 19% on our $2727 investment (we had a $1250 maintenance requirement for one day because of the put diagonal, but since we had closed out the Deere positions we had plenty of spare cash in the account).
So there we are. Eight consecutive profitable option spreads on earnings announcements. The original $5000 investment had been entirely withdrawn in cash and the account was worth $5862 and sitting in cash awaiting the next week’s trades.
Here are the net results:
The average gain for the eight successful plays was 22.6%. Most of the time we only put about half our money at risk so the portfolio increased in value by less than 8 x 22.6%.
What We Have Learned: We have identified the following characteristics of earnings-announcement-related price action based on our experience over the past several months:
1. It is possible to construct a combination of option spreads which creates a profit if the stock moves less than 10% in one direction or 5% in the other. Most of the time, the level of pre-announcement expectation determines the direction you want to establish the 10% coverage.
2. It is possible to create unlimited coverage in one direction or the other with diagonal spreads but the potential gains are diminished.
3. Big (over 10%) price moves are almost always in the opposite direction of these last 10% earnings-related move.
4. Downside 10% moves are about twice as likely as upside 10% moves.
5. Big downside price moves are much more likely when expectations are high (some small part of the announcement often disappoints). High expectations can be measured by a strong upward move in the stock price in the month or two prior to the announcement, a high RSI, and whisper numbers exceeding analyst expectations – all three numbers should be checked prior to making PEA Play). Low expectations (and a possible 10%+ upward post-earnings move) have the opposite numbers.
6. When risk profile graphs are created prior to making a PEA Play, it is important to change the Implied Volatility (IV) of the long options to account for the expected implosion of all option prices after the announcement has been made. Check back to see what IV of the one-month options fell to after the last earnings announcement as a guide. If the month of the long options is greater than three months more than the short-term options which are being sold (usually Weeklys), IV will not fall as much as shorter-term long options (because a second earnings-announcement day will occur before they expire).
7. It is usually possible to create a risk profile graph which shows a break-even range which extends about 10% in one direction (usually on the downside) and 5% in the other (usually the upside) by selecting the strike prices of the calendar spreads.
8. When selecting the best month for the long side of the calendar spreads, check out the bid-ask ranges of the options to learn if decent executions are likely. The further out you go, the more conservative your positions will be (more of the option’s value is due to its long life than its IV) but the greater the bid-ask range might be.
9. Restrict PEA Play companies to those which have Weekly options available. These are the most actively-traded option markets and decent executions are generally available (which is often not the case with companies which trade only monthly options). Selling Weeklys also means that you can exit the positions in just a few days rather than waiting until the month expires before the short-term options fall to their intrinsic value.
10. In about a third of the weeks, there will not be a viable PEA Play available, especially if Weekly options are to be sold. Earnings announcements tend to lump together in a distinct season starting about the middle of January and extending for about six weeks (and then moving 90 days forward to the next quarterly reports).
11. While losses are possible with PEA Plays, the entire amount of the investment can never be lost because there will always be more value to the long side of the calendar spreads than the short value because of the additional time value to those options.
12. More conservative (with lower potential gains) PEA Plays can be made by choosing a wider range of strike prices for the calendar spreads.
13. We checked to see if hedge funds had recently bought (or sold) shares in the company, and concluded that such information was valuable in deciding whether to bet on a higher (or lower) stock price. While hedge funds aren’t always right, they surely do intensive due diligence before investing or divesting, and they have far more resources to do this that any individual has.
14. A statistic that will need more study is the short interest ratio. When an unusually high percentage of shares have been sold short, a short squeeze is possible that could result in a large upward move after the announcement, but except for the GMCR case (huge short interest, huge gain after the announcement), the short interest level did not seem to be a significant factor.
. Will we be able to continue making profitable PEA Plays every week for the next six weeks? Probably not. But it’s possible. We plan to invest only about half our portfolio value in any given earnings play (and sometimes two in a week) so that if there is a 10% move in the opposite direction we expect, we won’t be left with no money to work with. (If we feel really strongly about a trade, like we did in Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, we will invest more than half the portfolio value.)
So far, playing the earnings announcements has been fun, and profitable. After reading this, I hope you decide that it would be a lot easier to become a Terry’s Tips Insider, sign up for Auto-Trade at thinkorswim, and let us make all the investment decisions. You could also follow our Trade Alerts and place the trades at another broker if you prefer.
You can become a Terry’s Tips Insider, and receive all our educational reports and materials absolutely free by opening a new account (even if you already have another account) at the best options broker around – thinkorswim. You must use this link to sign up – open thinkorswim account– and once you have funded your account with at least $3500, email Seth@TerrysTips.com and let him know that you have done it, and this is what he will do – sign you for our Premium Service package ($119.95 value plus an extra 4 months of our Premium Service, valued at another $190.80). You get $300.65 worth of services without paying us one penny, and your service will extend for five full months after which you can decide on whether to continue or not.
I look forward to prospering with you.