How NOT to bet on Apple’s quarterly earnings report

January 15, 2012, 1:12 PM UTC

Buying puts or calls just before the numbers come out is a fool’s game

Click to enlarge. Source: Kim Klaiman via Seeking Alpha

Apple (AAPL) is a company that tends to surprise Wall Street every time it reports its quarterly earnings, usually on the upside, occasionally on the down.

As a result, the stock often makes big moves the next day — sometimes as much as 5% and 6%.

Given the power of stock options to leverage your investment dollars, you might be tempted to bet on the earnings report coming out next week by buying Apple calls (if you think the stock is going up) or Apple puts (if you want to bet that it will go down).

That last bet paid off handsomely in October when Apple reported Q4 2011 earnings that disappointed Wall Street. The stock fell 5.59% the next day and the value of Apple’s weekly puts rose 132%.

But that’s the exception, not the rule.

As Kim Klaiman demonstrates in one of the most sensible Seeking Alpha articles I’ve read some time, buying either puts or calls just before Apple’s earnings report is, on average, a losing proposition.

Over the past eight quarters, he shows, Apple’s weekly calls lost an average of 20% of their value the day after the earnings reports, while the puts lost nearly 40%. (See Klaiman’s spreadsheets, above.)

“The explanation for those numbers is simple,” Klaiman writes. “Over time, the options tend to overprice the potential post-earnings move. Those options experience huge volatility drop the day after the earnings are announced. In most cases, this drop erases most of the gains, even if the stock had a substantial move.”

As near as I can tell, the only people making money in options are the traders who are selling them or simultaneously buying and selling puts and calls in complex combinations. Klaiman recommends either the Iron Condor or the Reverse Iron Condor. See here.