Best Buy (BBY) is scheduled to unveil its fourth-quarter results Thursday morning, with analysts anticipating a profit of $1.85 per share -- little changed from the big box retailer's year-ago earnings of $1.82 per share. Best Buy has been hot-and-cold on the earnings front; during the past four quarters, the company has topped consensus bottom-line estimates twice, and fallen short on two other occasions.
Ahead of the quarterly report, one options player built a bullishly biased spread on BBY. Right after the opening bell Wednesday morning, the trader purchased 358 April 32 calls, and simultaneously sold 716 April 35 calls. In other words, two April 35 calls were sold for every one purchased April 32 call. This strategy is known as a ratio call spread, and it's typically used by traders who are bullish on the underlying equity -- but with a very specific upside target in mind.
Option volume has ramped up today on KeyCorp (KEY), with activity rising well beyond the usual level on both the call and put side of the tape. Taking a closer look at some of the major block trades on this regional banking issue, it appears that a single spread strategist is responsible for a healthy portion of this option volume.
Specifically, the trader purchased a block of 10,000 June 10 calls for $0.50 each, and simultaneously sold 10,000 June 8 puts for $0.25 each. The result was a net debit of $0.25 per pair of contracts -- which means the speculator can begin collecting profits on those purchased calls if KEY rallies beyond $10.25 by June expiration.
Within the first hour of Friday's session, more than 5,000 puts were exchanged on CHK's January 2012 35-strike put. The majority of these puts traded near the ask price, indicating they were most likely purchased. With CHK hovering just shy of $35 at last look, these long-term options are right at the money.
Online marketing specialist ValueClick (VCLK) is scheduled to unveil its fourth-quarter earnings after Tuesday's closing bell. Ahead of the announcement, analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters are anticipating a profit of 23 cents per share, on average, which would represent an improvement over ValueClick's year-ago earnings of 18 cents per share.
ValueClick has a strong history in the earnings spotlight, having surpassed analysts' bottom-line expectations in each of the past four quarters. However, a quick scan of the stock's sentiment backdrop reveals a nearly palpable pessimism among both traders and analysts.
Cosmetics giant Avon Products (AVP) unveiled its fourth-quarter earnings this morning, and the results fell short of Wall Street's expectations. AVP's quarterly profit slipped 15% to $229.5 million, or 53 cents per share. Excluding restructuring expenses, earnings from continuing operations declined to 59 cents per share from 68 cents in the year-ago quarter. Revenue rose 1.2% to $3.18 billion.
By contrast, analysts were looking for a profit of 67 cents per share on revenue of $3.28 billion. AVP's fourth-quarter performance was negatively impacted by currency fluctuations, as well as higher product costs.
However, not everyone was won over by January's stronger-than-forecast sales data. Around midday on Thursday, one skeptical options trader initiated a long put spread on the XRT, in an attempt to capitalize on expected weakness in the retail-based fund.
Shares of Level 3 Communications (LVLT) have taken a turn for the worse, after the firm's fourth-quarter earnings report landed with a thud. The company confessed to a net loss of $52 million, or 3 cents per share, narrowed from its year-ago deficit of $182 million, or 11 cents per share. Revenue for the quarter declined to $921 million from $924 million.
The results actually surpassed Wall Street's consensus forecast, which called for a net loss of 10 cents per share on revenue of $920.1 million. However, traders seem none too pleased with Level 3's earnings performance, as the stock plummeted roughly 7% Wednesday morning. In particular, it seems the market may be taking issue with Level 3's warning that it expects free cash flow to be negative for fiscal 2011.
Shares of Patriot Coal (PCX) surged to a new annual high of $27.54 right out of the gate Tuesday, as traders cheered the energy issue's latest quarterly report.
Patriot announced that its fourth-quarter net profit dwindled 33% to $7.3 million, or 8 cents per share, from its year-ago results of $10.9 million, or 12 cents per share. Revenue for the quarter climbed 5% to $528.2 million, but selling and administrative expenses swelled 35% to $14 million. Likewise, Patriot's operating cost per ton increased 9.5% to $55.70.
In the wake of Friday's drastic pullback in the stock market, it looks like at least one trader is banking on more short-term volatility. Bright and early Monday, a spread speculator constructed a long straddle on the PowerShares QQQ Trust (QQQQ), with the trader hoping to capitalize on a substantial price swing over the next several weeks.
Specifically, the trader purchased a block of 1,205 February 56 calls, and simultaneously bought a matching block of 1,205 February 56 puts. QQQQ was hovering right at $55.69 at the time of these transactions, placing both strikes very near the money.
Specifically, a block of 13,000 contracts changed hands at the ask price of $1.18 on LOW's January 2012 30-strike call, suggesting they were purchased. At the same time, a matching block of 13,000 contracts traded on the equity's January 2012 35-strike call, but these options crossed the tape at the bid price of $0.31 -- indicating they were sold.
Juniper Networks (JNPR) is on the upswing, with the stock catching a 6% boost Wednesday morning on the heels of a well-received fourth-quarter earnings report. Juniper reported a quarterly profit of $190.2 million, or 35 cents per share, substantially improved from its year-ago results of $22.9 million, or 4 cents per share. Excluding items, earnings improved to 42 cents from 32 cents per share on a year-over-year basis.
Meanwhile, revenue for the quarter increased 26% to $1.19 billion. Gross margin retreated slightly, falling to 66.6% from 67.1%.
Blue-chip burger baron McDonald's (MCD) was in focus Monday morning after the company unveiled its fourth-quarter earnings. The fast-food chain reported net income of $1.24 billion, or $1.16 per share, slightly improved from its year-ago profit of $1.22 billion, or $1.11 per share. Revenue for the quarter climbed 4% to $6.21 billion.
The fourth-quarter results were more or less in line with Wall Street's expectations, but the same can't be said of its December sales. Global same-store sales rose 3.7% across the board, led by an 8.9% gain in the Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa (APMEA). U.S. same-store sales increased 2.6% in December, while sales at restaurants open at least 13 months declined 0.5% in Europe.
The adjusted results surpassed analysts' expectations, which called for a profit of 86 cents per share on revenue of $2.14 billion. However, traders seem less than pleased by STT's quarterly results. The stock gapped lower with the sound of Wednesday's opening bell, falling to a loss of about 4% in early trading.
Friday morning, the good folks at JPMorgan Chase (JPM) kicked off a wave of quarterly reports from the banking sector. Next week, we'll hear the latest earnings results from the likes of Citigroup (C), Goldman Sachs (GS), and Wells Fargo (WFC), just to name a few.
Of course, the biggest bank in the nation -- Bank of America (BAC) -- also has a quarterly report on deck. Ahead of next Friday's fourth-quarter release, one speculator opted to construct a high-volatility options strategy on BAC.
The shares of Nvidia (NVDA) have been tearing up the charts in 2011, thanks to a lucrative settlement with Intel (INTC) and a high-profile new partnership with ARM Holdings (ARMH). The month of January isn't quite half-over yet, but the stock is already sitting on a year-to-date gain of 51.6%.
Judging by at least one headline hitting the wires, the stock's rapid rise is making some analysts nervous. However, on Wednesday, one upbeat options trader placed a bet on additional upside from NVDA during the near term.