Warning to Options Traders Looking at NetFlix Earnings

By: JW Jones | Tue, Jan 25, 2011
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One of the hardest things for me to remember is not to believe everything I see. I am a sucker for the latest "can't lose" strategy supported by the experts. This morning I ran across a trade that looked too good to be true. I think it is, but I think it is instructive to walk through the potential hidden land mine. The event is the Wednesday afternoon release of NFLX earnings but there is a hidden trap for option traders using one commonly used earnings play structure.

The construction of the play is that of a "double calendar" spread. The underlying profit engine is an attempt to exploit the routinely seen spike in implied volatility (IV) of the options series most closely following earnings release. In this case, NFLX has weekly options which expire 48 hours after the scheduled announcement.

In order to understand the situation, let's walk through the components step-by-step. First, is the routinely observed spike in IV seen as earnings release approaches present? As shown in the options pricing matrix below, the IV of the weekly options is substantially higher than the next series in time, the February monthlies:

NFLX Options

Next, we need to get an idea of the magnitude of the price movement expected by option traders. This price range can be imputed from the break even points of the at-the-money straddle in the front most options. As shown in the graph below, this analysis gives a current expected price range of 167-203 following earnings release.


Larger Image

Now let us consider a double calendar spread with strikes selected to encompass this anticipated price range. To review quickly, a calendar spread consists of selling a short dated option while buying a longer dated option at the same strike price. An example of such a trade in NFLX is presented below:


Larger Image

That looks pretty sweet, right? We have projected break even points of 147.3 and 238.86 and a probability of profit (P.P.) of 100%. So all we have to do is put this on, wait for earnings, and barring any huge surprise, we take profit of 100% or more home.

What could possibly go wrong? Unfortunately there is a high probability of a sequence of events that will totally erase any profits and likely result in a loss. Go back and look at the option pricing matrix above and focus on the IV of the options we are buying. These options trade at a volatility of 60%. Is that high or low? You tell me from this historic graph of volatility in NFLX options:


Larger Image

As you can see, the current level of volatility that you are buying in the long legs of the calendar is quite elevated on a historical basis. Furthermore, the spread between statistical (historical) and implied volatilities has rarely been greater. This combination of events sets up a high probability of a "volatility crush" on the options you hold long as part of the spread. The moving parts of this crush are:

1. Cessation of the "bleeding" of juiced IV from the weeklies into the monthly series as the weekly option IV deflates massively.

2. Convergence of IV toward the value of historical volatility in order to close the huge divergence in the levels currently present.

This situation sets up a high probability for a negative impact on the trade which will almost certainly result in a loss. Do I know these events will transpire? Absolutely not, and I may be 100% wrong. Survival as an options trader is all about recognizing high probability events and structuring trades accordingly. No free cheese here; time to move along to the next trade.

 


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JW Jones

Author: JW Jones

JW Jones
www.Optionnacci.com

JW Jones

J.W. Jones is an independent options trader using multiple forms of analysis to guide his option trading strategies. Jones has an extensive background in portfolio analysis and analytics as well as risk analysis. J.W. strives to help traders that are missing opportunities trading options. He also commits to writing content which is not only educational, but entertaining as well. Regular readers will develop the knowledge and skills to trade options competently over time. Jones focuses on writing spreads in situations where risk is clearly defined and high potential returns can be realized.

This material should not be considered investment advice. J.W. Jones is not a registered investment advisor. Under no circumstances should any content from this article or the OptionsTradingSignals.com website be used or interpreted as a recommendation to buy or sell any type of security or commodity contract. This material is not a solicitation for a trading approach to financial markets. Any investment decisions must in all cases be made by the reader or by his or her registered investment advisor. This information is for educational purposes only.

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