Options Pricing Before and After Earnings
When Earnings Top Expectation
When Earnings Miss Expectations
Now that earnings season has started, I thought it would be a
good time to discuss the importance of volatility in options
I think of volatility in terms of insurance. If there are
reports of a possible hurricane coming in the direction of your
house, you would likely be willing to pay extra to have as much
insurance as possible in case of mass destruction. However, once
the threat of a hurricane has passed and your house is safe, you
would have no interest in having extra insurance because of the
This is similar to how options are priced right before and
after earnings reports.
Earnings reports are among the great unknowns of investing.
Will company XYZ's quarterly profits top analysts' expectations?
Will its revenues come in line? Are there any other important
inputs in its business that could make the stock move violently
in either direction?
Because we don't know the answers to these questions until
after the report is released, options prices often rise as
traders buy volatility insurance to hedge against big moves in
the stock. However, once the earnings are reported, volatility
and options prices will drop DRAMATICALLY. Just like after the
hurricane passes, uncertainty is removed after earnings are
reported because we then know how the business is doing and can
more properly measure the value of the company and the stock.
As an example, let's look at the impact of volatility in the
JP Morgan Chase (
options. The company released earnings on the morning of April 12
and the figures topped analyst expectations.
JPM shares closed on April 11 at 49.31, and then traded at
49.15, down 0.16 the following morning.
Here are the JPM options that were close to the at-the-money
strike price and their prices before and after the earnings
April 50 Calls: $0.47 before earnings; $0.17 after earnings.
April 48 Puts: $0.28 before earnings; $0.13 after earnings.
May 50 Calls: $1.00 before earnings; $0.76 after earnings.
May 48 Puts: $0.80 before earnings; $0.67 after earnings.
As you can see, if you bought any of these options-including
puts which you might assume would be worth more when the stock
declined following the report-you would have lost money. This was
due to the dramatic decrease in volatility after the company's
earnings announcement. The hurricane had passed.
The dramatic decrease in volatility following earnings
announcements is why I sometimes recommend spreads to lower
volatility and premium risk. Buying one option and selling
another lowers our volatility and risk if we get the trade wrong.
(That being said, when we use spreads, we also limit our
potential gains if the stock makes a dramatic move.)
Now let's take a look at a stock where options volatility was
not high enough going into earnings.
Infosys Technologies (
made a massive move last Friday after the company released
disappointing earnings. The hurricane made a direct hit on this
INFY shares closed last Thursday night before the earnings
release at 54.42, and traded at 43.61, down 10.82 the next
Here are the INFY options that were close to the at-the-money
strike price and their prices before and after earnings:
April 55 Calls: $2.00 before earnings; $0.05 after earnings.
April 52 Puts: $1.50 before earnings; $9.00 (!) after earnings.
May 55 Calls: $2.50 before earnings; $0.05 after earnings.
May 52 Puts: $2.00 before earnings; $9.00 (!) after earnings.
As you can see, volatility was priced too low and put buyers
were rewarded handsomely.
In conclusion, volatility is much like insurance. It is a
terrible waste of money that sucks away your hard-earned cash
every month … until your house/stock gets hit by a hurricane.
If you have any interest in portfolio protection or the type
of insurance I spoke of, check out Cabot Options Trader, where I
regularly talk about how to hedge your portfolio against
Your guide to successful
Analyst and Editor, Cabot Options Trader