Apple (AAPL) is on deck to release its fiscal first-quarter earnings report next week, opening up a considerable opportunity to bag a few bucks on Apple stock. However, while Wall Street will be paying close attention to AAPL earnings figures, quarterly iPad and iPhone sales figures are expected to take center stage.
So, before we dive into options trading strategies for Apple stock, let’s take a look at Wall Street’s expectations.
AAPL Earnings Expectations at a Glance
Getting the baseline numbers out of the way, the consensus is currently expecting AAPL earnings to come in at $14.09 per share on revenue of about $57.5 billion. In the year-ago quarter, Apple earned $13.81 per share on $54.51 billion in revenue. Gross margin is forecast between 36.5% and 37.5%.
As usual, the whisper number on Wall Street hints that expectations may be considerably higher, arriving at $14.31 per share according to EarningsWhisper.com. Remember, expectations can play a critical role in post-earnings reactions by Apple stock.
That said, the hot topic surrounding AAPL earnings right now is “How many iPods/iPhones/iPads did Apple sell?”
With both the iPhone 5C and 5S finally getting a full quarter’s worth of sales under their belts, and both devices launching officially in China, Wall Street is placing considerable focus on sales figures this time around.
The current consensus is for iPhone sales of 55.3 million units, up 16% over the same quarter last year, though some targets place the number as high as 59 million units.
With new versions of the iPad Air and iPad Mini launching in October, device sales are seen up 10% at 25.09 million on the quarter. Finally, iPod sales are expected to continue to decline, with some analysts anticipating a double-digit drop in Apple’s former-flagship gadget.
As you can see from the AAPL earnings whisper number and ramped up sales figures, expectations remain elevated heading into the company’s quarterly report. Nowhere is bullish sentiment toward Apple stock more prevalent than in the brokerage community.
According to data from Thomson/First Call, Apple stock has attracted a 39 “buy” ratings, compared to 12 “holds,” and only three outright “sell” ratings. Still, there is room for improvement within the brokeage bunch, as the 12-month consensus price target of $600 per share represents a measly premium of only 8.79% to Wednesday’s close. Any price-target increases could provide lift for Apple stock.
Turning to the options pits, Apple options are heavily skewed toward calls in the front two expiration months. Specifically, there are roughly 301,000 calls open in the January and February series (including weeklys), compared to only about 178,000 puts. The resulting put/call open interest ratio of 0.59 hints at a considerably bullish bias for Apple stock heading into next week’s earnings report.
Focusing solely on the soon-to-expire weekly Jan. 24 options reveals a much more optimistic configuration for Apple stock.
Specifically, the 74,705 weekly calls and the 34,201 weekly puts combine for a weekly January put/call open interest ratio of 0.46. In other words, bullish calls on Apple stock are more than twice as popular as bearish puts among options set to expire at the end of next week.
Overall, weekly Jan. 24 options are pricing in a post-earnings move of about 5.5% for Apple stock. Such a move would place the upper bound near $580.50, while the lower bound lies near $519.50. While the low is well within the trading range AAPL has occupied for the past month, the upper bound would represent a fresh 52-week high, placing the shares within striking distance of the $600 level.
Click to Enlarge Technically speaking, AAPL stock in rebounding from near oversold levels after the shares were rejected near $580 in early December. AAPL is currently staring up at potential short-term resistance near $560, with long-term resistance looming overhead at $600. AAPL’s 50-day moving average is in the $550 region, and is converging on the stock’s 10-day trendline.
Despite high expectations for sales figures, and considerable exuberance surrounding Apple stock among options traders, I’m inclined to run with the bullish crowd heading into AAPL earnings. Chinese sales combined with strong holiday sales and new/updated iProducts should be more than enough to impress Apple’s historically bullish investing crowd. Here are two possible trades to make:
Apple Stock Trade #1:
As such, those traders looking to take advantage of a post-earnings rally for Apple stock might want to consider a Feb 550/580 bull call spread. This spread is offered at $11, or $1,100 per pair of contracts. Breakeven lies at $561, while a maximum profit of $19 is possible if AAPL closes at or above $580 when February options expire.
Apple Stock Trade #2:
For those looking for a way to play Apple stock that doesn’t require as much capital upfront, an alternate AAPL earnings trade could be a Feb 490/500 bull put spread — a trade that keys off AAPL’s technical support near at the $500 level. This spread is bid at $1.38 cents, or $138 per pair of contracts. The maximum profit is the $1.38 credit collected upon initiation, while a maximum loss of $8.62 is possible if AAPL closes at or below $490 when February options expire.
As of this writing, Joseph Hargett did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.