I am generally not a fan of being long any options during options expiration week, as the effort required to ‘salmon’ upstream against the relentless current of time decay (theta) makes these trades extremely challenging. Not only do you have to get the direction right, but you have to do it in a big way and in a hurry. Of course, if there is another volatility event that you have to overcome during options expiration week, that makes the task even more difficult.
Baidu (BIDU) is a perfect case in point. Earnings came out after the close last night and while the most recent quarter comfortably exceeded expectations, the company’s tepid guidance had some analysts wondering what the future revenue stream looks like.
With the conflicting numbers and multiple interpretations available, the market action has been interesting to watch. After closing at 261.09 yesterday, BIDU traded up almost 30 points in the after hours session last night, before settling back to an after hours gain of about 18 points. In pre-market the stock gradually slid down to 274, up about 13 points over Wednesday’s close. When the regular session opened, the stock fell quickly to 263, recovered sharply to trade briefly above 280, and has been in a downtrend ever since, currently trading back down to about 267.
The first graphic, which comes from optionsXpress, shows how the options were behaving after about a half hour of trading, when BIDU was up 16.97 at 278.06. If you happened to be long BIDU calls at a strike of 270 or above, you were losing money, even with the stock up 6.5%.
Normally, one would expect a post-earnings volatility crush, where IV contracts and all options lose their value, but as the iVolatility chart on the bottom shows, IV was not particularly high (relative to recent historical BIDU levels) coming into earnings, nor did it drop dramatically after earnings were out (see the IV numbers in the optionsXpress table.)
BIDU’s action today is an excellent illustration of what happens toward the end of the options expiration cycle, when time decay accelerates. While it is still possible to make money being long options, the percentages are with those who are on the side of time decay. If you are looking at a stock with high IV and an earnings report or other volatility event, consider that at the money options can still be losers even if you get the direction correct and have a 6.5% move in the underlying on your side.