Microsoft Stock Targeted for Pre-Earnings Options Hedges

MSFT's 30-day implied volatility skew is near the bottom of its annual range

Jul 19, 2017 at 2:59 PM
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Tech stocks have been on a hot streak recently -- with the Nasdaq Composite (COMP) currently on its longest winning streak in more than two years -- and Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT) is no exception. MSFT stock is trading up 0.8% at $73.90, and earlier topped out at a record high of $74.04. And with Microsoft earnings due after tomorrow's close, the shares could be ready to extend this upside, if history is any guide.

Over the past eight quarters, the security has closed higher in the session immediately following its earnings report six times. On average, the shares have moved 4.9% over this time frame, regardless of direction. The options market is pricing in a bigger 5.8% swing for Friday's trading.

Call Writing Has Been Popular at Microsoft's July 75 Strike

However, if past is prologue, MSFT's actual post-earnings move could fall short of options traders' volatility expectations, considering its Schaeffer's Volatility Scorecard (SVS) is perched at a low 10. In other words, Microsoft shares have tended to make smaller moves over the past year relative to what its options pricing would suggest.

This would certainly benefit options traders who sold naked calls at the July 75 strike. This option is Microsoft's top open interest position, with 58,318 contracts currently outstanding. Data from the major options exchanges confirms significant sell-to-open activity here in recent months, meaning traders were betting on MSFT remaining below the strike through expiration at this Friday's close. If this is indicative of a covered-call strategy, though, the shareholder ultimately wants the stock to continue higher, but has just initiated an options hedge.

Short-Term Protective Puts are Cheap on MSFT Stock

Microsoft shareholders may also be using protective puts to guard against any post-earnings downside, considering buy-to-open put volume was running at an accelerated clip across the major options exchanges earlier this week. Now seems to be an ideal time to buy MSFT puts, too, based on its 30-day implied volatility skew of 5.5% ranks lower than 99% of all comparable readings taken in the past year -- suggesting the stock's short-term put options have rarely been cheaper, relative to calls.

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