By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
January 24, 2012

Betting on a stock this volatile on a day like this is an exceedingly dangerous game 

Trading in Apple (AAPL) was halted on July 19 last year, just before the company released its third quarter earnings report. When trading re-opened, the stock immediately jumped nearly $23 (6%). On October 18, when Apple released its fourth quarter earnings, the stock fell more than $33 (8%) in after-hours trading.

So as you can imagine, there’s a lot of interest in what’s going to happen at about 4:30 this afternoon when Apple announces the results of what is widely expected to be the best quarterly earnings report in the company’s 36-year history. (See here.)

And there’s no shortage of free advice. Dozen of Apple-related articles have been posted on Seeking Alpha over the past few days, most of them suggesting complicated derivative plays. Sample headlines:

Options: How To Maximize Your Gains On Apple’s Earnings
Should You Sell Apple The Day Before Earnings? History Says Yes
A Cautious But Profitable Earnings Trade
A Safer Way To Bet On Apple’s Earnings
Apple: Have You Considered Weekly Options?
Selling Apple Options: When Implied Volatility Doesn’t Mean Squat

On his widely-watched Mad Money show Monday night (video here), Jim Cramer advised day traders to sell Apple ahead of earnings while OptionPit‘s Mark Sebastian suggested that investors buy Apple calls. “From my perspective,” quipped a regular on Investor Village’s AAPL Sanity board, “both of them seem to be attempting to lead the sheep to the wolves.”

The fact is, any large movements in Apple shares in after-hours trading today are likely to be driven by high-frequency computerized trading programs that buy and sell enormous quantities of stock in milliseconds. Trying to beat them at their own game is a fool’s errand.

Whatever happens, we’ll be watching. Tune in here after the markets close for our blow-by-blow report.

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