Optimism Priced Into Apple Stock Ahead of Earnings

Most analysts are bullish on AAPL stock

Aug 1, 2017 at 3:18 PM
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Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is set to unveil its fiscal third-quarter earnings after tonight's close. Ahead of the highly anticipated event, shares of the iPhone maker are trading up 0.3% at $149.23. Over the past eight quarters, AAPL stock has averaged a single-session post-earnings swing of 4.5% in the session after earnings. This time around, the options market is pricing in a slightly bigger swing of 5.4% for Wednesday's session, regardless of direction.

Options traders appear to be positioning for a post-earnings move to the upside. At the International Securities Exchange (ISE), Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), and NASDAQ OMX PHLX (PHLX), speculative players have bought to open 351,268 calls over the past 10 days, compared to 124,957 puts. The resultant call/put volume ratio of 2.81 ranks in the 96th annual percentile, pointing to a much healthier-than-usual appetite for bullish bets over bearish. 

And while weekly 8/4 calls account for seven of AAPL's 10 most active options today, the weekly 8/4 155-strike call has seen the largest increase in open interest in this series over the last two weeks, with 22,564 contracts initiated. This strike is now home to peak open interest of 26,592 contracts in the weekly series, followed by the 150 and 152.50 strikes, where 20,837 and 21,286 contracts respectively reside.

Coinciding with this recent rise in call activity is an increase in short-term implied volatility levels for Apple stock ahead of earnings. Since July 19, AAPL's 30-day at-the-money implied volatility has jumped 5.2% to 24.9% -- in the 90th annual percentile.

Outside of the options pits, most analysts are optimistic toward Apple ahead of earnings, with 22 of 31 maintaining a "buy" or "strong buy" rating toward the shares. Plus, the average 12-month price target of $160.75 sits in uncharted territory for the tech stock.

And given Apple's impressive technical backdrop, short sellers have been reducing their bearish exposure. In the two most recent reporting periods, short interest on the stock plunged 29.5%, and now accounts for less than 1% of the equity's available float.

Looking at the charts, Apple is boasting a 28.8% year-to-date lead, perched just behind Boeing and Visa in terms of best Dow stock so far in 2017. And while the FAANG stock has pulled back since hitting a record high of $156.65 on May 15, it's trading just above its 30- and 40-day moving averages -- both of which served as a springboard for Apple in mid-April -- and heading into a historically bullish month.

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