Tech traders are in for a treat after the close of trading Wednesday afternoon. A pair of heavy hitters are slated to step into the earnings limelight: networking giant Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) and graphics chip specialist Nvidia (NASDAQ:NVDA). Let’s take a look at analyst expectations and a few potential factors that could be key for options traders ahead of tonight’s festivities.
A few months ago, Cisco outlined its plan to move from hardware to software, a nod to the expanding importance of “big data” and the cloud. CEO John T. Chambers underscored a long-term profit goal ranging between 7% and 9%. Cisco has already taken steps toward these goals, announcing plans to sell its Linksys unit to Belkin International.
But investors shouldn’t expect miracles in tonight’s report. Analysts forecast Cisco to report second-quarter earnings of $2.55 billion, or 48 cents per share, a penny better than year-ago results. Revenue is seen rising a mere 5% to $12.06 billion.
That said, it appears many on Wall Street have set their sights higher. For instance, EarningsWhisper.com reports that the whisper number of Cisco’s EPS rests at 50 cents. And 28 of the 43 analysts following CSCO rate the stock a “buy” or better.
Bulls are also dominating the options pits. Specifically, the February/March put/call open interest ratio arrives at 0.55, meaning calls are nearly twice as popular as puts in the front two months of options.
This overwhelming optimism could blunt any post-earnings rally from CSCO, or even sink the shares if the report falls shy of expectations. However, the stock is in a solid uptrend and is currently holding firm above support at its 10-day and 20-day moving averages. Given this solid price action, it would seem that CSCO deserves its bullish reputation.
Looking for a pre-earnings options trade on CSCO? You could easily join the bulls by jumping on a March 21/22 bull call spread. And with February option implieds pricing in a post-earnings move of about 5%, this spread has a good chance of maxing out.
As of the close last night, a March 21/22 call spread could be had for 40 cents, or $40 per pair of contracts, placing the maximum potential return at 60 cents, or $60 per pair of contracts, if CSCO closes at or above $22 when March options expire.
The decline of the desktop powerhouse gaming PC has been quite a thorn in Nvidia’s side. Once the king of high-end desktop graphics processors, Nvidia is now attempting to shift gears and court the smartphone and tablet market. The company has proven to be more nimble than many expected, with its Tegra 3 chip featured in Microsoft’s (NASDAQ:MSFT) Surface and Google’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Nexus 7.
Unfortunately, rumors are already circulating that Google will partner with Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) for the next iteration of its Nexus tablet. Therefore, Nvidia’s guidance may be more key to investors than its fourth-quarter earnings figures. For the record, the consensus is looking for earnings of 23 cents per share on revenue of $1.2 billion.
Sentiment within the brokerage community is considerably mixed at the moment. Nvidia’s whisper number comes in 3 cents higher than the consensus at 26 cents per share, while 24 of the 34 analysts following the stock rate it a “hold” or worse.
Technically, NVDA has been bouncing around between $12 and $13 for the past couple of months. Not only has $13 been quite a hurdle, but the 200-day moving average has also descended into the region. Currently, the stock is pinned between its 200-day and its 50-day moving averages.
Checking in with February option implieds, the option pits are pricing in a post-earnings move of about 5.75% for NVDA. Given the technical and sentiment backdrops, this expected move leaves more than enough wiggle room (with the upside near $13 and the downside near $12) for both bullish and bearish traders.
Those concerned that Nvidia could be pressured by weak guidance might want to consider a March 12/13 bear put spread. Such a move is well within expectations, and it takes into account the lower rail of NVDA’s current trading range.
At the close of trading yesterday, the March 12/13 put spread was offered at 28 cents, or $28 per pair of contracts. A maximum profit of 72 cents per share, or $72 per pair of contracts, is possible if NVDA closes at or below $12 when March options expire.
As of this writing, Joseph Hargett didn’t own any securities mentioned here.