Optimistic traders have bid up the share prices for General Motors Company (GM) stock ahead of its quarterly earnings announcement. There's no way to accurately predict the direction a stock will move after an earnings announcement. However, a comparison of the price action between stock prices and option prices shows that, if GM shares fall, creating a reversion back to its 20-day moving average in the first few days after the announcement, downside-focused traders are in a position to capture the best profits.

Key Takeaways

  • Traders and investors have driven the price of GM shares higher heading into the announcement.
  • GM's stock price has been closing well above its 20-day moving average. 
  • Put options are priced for a smaller drop and call options for a larger gain. 
  • The volatility-based support and resistance levels are positioned better for a move lower. 
  • This setup creates a greater opportunity for traders to profit if the price falls.

Option trading represents the activities of investors who want to protect their positions or speculators who want to profit from correctly forecasting unexpected moves in an underlying stock or index. That means option trading is literally a bet on market probabilities. By comparing the details of both stock and option price behavior, chart watchers can gain valuable insight, although it helps to understand the context in which this price behavior took place. The chart below depicts the price action for GM's share price and the setup leading into the earnings report.

Chart showing the share price performance of General Motors (GM) before earnings

Current Trend

The one-month trend of the stock has the shares moving higher. It is notable that over the past month GM rose to $56 per share in mid-January then retraced to $49 per share before closing at a high of $56.88 as the announcement day draws near. The price closed in the upper region depicted by the technical studies on this chart. The studies are formed with 20-day Keltner Channel indicators. These depict price levels that represent a multiple of the Average True Range (ATR) for the stock. This array helps to highlight the way the price has moved from above the upper extreme back to its average range and back again toward its upper extreme. This unusual price move for GM shares implies that investors remain optimistic.

Tip

The Average True Range (ATR) has become a standard tool for depicting historical volatility over time. The typical average length of time used in its calculation is 10 to 20 time periods, which includes one to two weeks of trading on a daily chart.

In this context where the price trend for GM has been accelerating, chart watchers can recognize that traders and investors are expressing strong optimism going into earnings. That makes it important for chart watchers to determine whether the move is presaging investors' expectations for a favorable earnings report. One bit of evidence to support the idea that investors are expecting good news from the company report can be found in the comparison of the volatility range depicted on the chart by the purple lines and the purple box in the background. Despite the fact that prices have moved so optimistically, they are still some distance from the top of this range.

Tip

The Keltner Channel indicator displays a set of semi-parallel lines based on a 20-day simple moving average and an upper and lower line. Because the upper lines are drawn by adding a multiple of ATR to the average and the lower lines are drawn by subtracting a multiple of ATR from the average price, then this channel indicator makes for an excellent visualization tool when charting historical volatility.

Trading Activity

Option traders recognize that GM shares are pushing higher and have priced their options as a bet that the stock will close within one of the two boxes depicted in the chart between today and Feb. 12, the Friday after the earnings report is released. The green-framed box represents the pricing that the call option sellers are offering. It implies a 78% chance that GM shares will close inside this range by the end of the week, if prices go higher. The red box represents the pricing for put options with the same probability if prices go lower on the announcement.

It is important to note that trading on Monday featured over 171,600 call options traded compared to roughly 49,000 put options, demonstrating the bias that option buyers had. This three-to-one call-to-put ratio implies that option traders are expecting strongly positive news and giving a bias toward a move higher, as shown in the chart below.

Chart showing General Motors (GM) call and put pricing

The purple lines on the chart are generated by a 10-day Keltner Channel study set at four times the ATR. This measure tends to create highly correlated regions of strong support and resistance in the price action. These regions show up when the channel lines make a noticeable turn within the previous three months. The levels that the turns mark are annotated in the chart below. What is notable in this chart is that the call option pricing is so much closer to the upper line of this study than the put option pricing is to the lower boundary. This suggests that buyers could run into eager sellers as the price approaches this line, potentially causing the price action to reverse.

Chart showing General Motors (GM) volatility range


These support and resistance levels show a lot less support for prices, if they should begin to fall, and a lot more resistance for prices if they begin to rise. As a result of this, and because of the obvious bias that option buyers have toward good news, it is possible that bad news will catch investors by surprise and could generate an unexpectedly strong move. After the previous earnings announcement, GM shares rose by only 6% in the days following. Because of the width of the volatility range, there is a strong possibility that the price move that follows the coming earnings announcement may be larger than last time. 

Market Impact

While it has been a long time since GM has been typically thought of as a bellwether stock, its high profile makes it influential in the markets. However, it is unlikely that serious negative news from the company could worry investors enough to create a ripple effect through the markets and in turn have a recognizable impact on broad market exchange traded funds (ETFs) such as State Street's S&P Index ETF (SPY).  

The Bottom Line

GM option traders heavily bought call options before the earnings announcement, expecting very good news from the company. If that news does not materialize, GM shares could drop substantially because of the lack of support in the volatility range. Right now, the put options for GM are not pricing in a wide range, so traders are dismissing the possibility of a large price drop. The volatility price range shows enough upside to exceed the call pricing, but not by much. This leaves the trade more difficult for call buyers to be profitable than put buyers in the event of a comparably large move either way.