Investors have kept the share prices of Mastercard Incorporated (MA) range bound ahead of the company's fiscal second quarter earnings announcement. On the surface, it seems that option traders are anticipating a positive move, as there are a noticeable amount of out-of-the-money call options in the open interest. The unusual option trading may create a strong downward trend if MA delivers a negative earnings surprise.

A sizable amount of call options are growing in the open interest for Mastercard, and option premiums are unusually high right now. Trading volumes indicate that traders have been buying calls and selling puts in anticipation of a positive earnings report. If these bets were to unwind, it could result in unexpected downward pressure on MA's share price.

It is difficult to accurately predict the direction a stock will move after earnings. However, a comparison between the stock's price action and option trading activity shows that, if Mastercard delivers an underwhelming report, the company's share price could fall drastically, moving closer to its 20-day moving average. This is possible because options are priced for an upwards move, but unforeseen poor news could catch traders off guard and create a rapid decline in share price.

Key Takeaways

  • Traders and investors have kept the share prices range bound headed into the earnings announcement.
  • The share price recently rose above its 20-day moving average.
  • Put and call pricing is forecasting a stronger move upwards.
  • The volatility-based support and resistance levels allow for a slightly stronger move to the downside.
  • This situation creates an opportunity for traders to profit from unexpected earnings results.

Option trading represents the activities of investors who desire to protect their positions or opportunists attempting to profit from accurately predicting unexpected moves in an underlying stock or index. That makes option trading a literal bet on market probabilities. By comparing the details of both option behavior and stock price, chart watchers can gain valuable insight, although understanding the context in which this price behavior took place is helpful. The chart below illustrates the price action for the MA share price as of Tuesday, July 27. This created the setup leading into the earnings announcement.

Earnings pricing for Mastercard Incorporated (MA)

Current Trends

Over the past month, the trend of MA stock has the shares closing near the 20-day moving average and briefly climbing above it. Over the last month, it’s notable that the lowest MA share price was near $365 in late June, whereas the highest share price was around $393, just a few days before the earnings announcement. The price closed in the middle bounds of the upper region depicted by the technical studies on this chart.

The studies are formed by 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 to a slightly higher range in the week before earnings. This price move from MA shares implies that investors expect a positive earnings result.

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 two to four weeks of trading on a daily chart.

In this context where the price trend for MA has been rising to the middle of an elevated range, chart watchers can recognize that traders and investors are expressing optimism going into earnings. In the week before earnings MA’s share price reached its monthly high, before slightly pulling back the following Monday.. That makes it important for chart watchers to determine whether the move is reflecting investors’ expectations for a favorable earnings or not.

Option trading details can provide additional context to assist chart watchers in forming an opinion about investor expectations. Recently, option traders are favoring calls over puts by a slim margin, as the open interest on options has a greater number of calls than puts. Normally, this suggests that investors are expecting a positive earnings report and that traders appear to be expecting that MA will move higher after earnings.

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 Mastercard shares are in an average range 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 July 30, the Friday after the earnings report is released. The green-framed box represents the pricing that call option sellers are offering. It implies a 36% that Mastercard shares will close inside this range by the end of the week if prices go higher. The red box represented the pricing for put options with a 34% probability if prices go lower on the announcement.

It's important to note that the open interest featured over 162,000 active call options compared to roughly 130,000 put options, demonstrating the bias that option buyers had. That well over half of the trades were call options. This amount normally implies that call option traders expect a jump in price. However, because the call box and put box are relatively equal in size, it tells us that the high percentage of call options traded has only mildly skewed expectations higher. A far more complacent outlook is implied.

Option pricing for Mastercard Incorporated (MA)

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 and put pricing are in such a close range with plenty of space to run downwards compared to upwards. This suggests that option buyers don't have a strong conviction about how the company will report, even though calls are being purchased over puts. Although investors and option traders do not expect it, a surprising report could push prices dramatically higher or lower.

Volatility pattern for Mastercard Incorporated (MA)

These support and resistance levels show a large range of support and resistance for prices. As a result of this, it is possible that any news, surprisingly bad or good, will catch investors by surprise and could generate an unusually large move. After the previous earnings announcement, MA shares rose by 1.77% in the day following and gradually fell the following week, before rising back above the 20-day moving average the next month. Investors may not be expecting the same kind of move in the price after this announcement. With plenty of room in the volatility range, share prices could rise or fall more than expected.

Market Impact

Mastercard is not a bellwether stock, and its earnings most likely won't have a direct effect on index prices. However, no matter what the report says, it will likely have an impact on stocks in the financial sector. A positive report could lift stocks in the sector such as Visa Inc. (V), PayPay Holdings, Inc. (PYPL), or JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM). It's possible that MA's earnings could affect exchange-traded funds (ETFs) such as State Street's Financial Sector Index ETF (XLF) and potentially State Street's S&P 500 Index ETF (SPY).