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Should Investors Expect Surprises in Financial Sector?

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No increase in implied volatility has many thinking there won't be any.

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With some very important earnings in the financial sector coming up this week -- JPMorgan Chase (JPM) on Wednesday; Citigroup (C) and Goldman Sachs (GS) on Thursday; Bank of America (BAC) and General Electric (GE) on Friday -- I've been watching implied volatility (IV) in the sector very closely. Much to my surprise, IV hasn't increased ahead of earnings, as is typically the case.

The chart below, courtesy of Livevol, shows six months of price and volatility activity in JPMorgan, with the upper portion of the chart highlighting the last two earnings releases with the blue "E" icon. The bottom half of the chart plots 30-day implied volatility (red line) against 30-day historical volatility (light blue line) during the same period.

Note that just prior to the last two earnings reports, implied volatility rose due to the uncertainty and potential for higher volatility associated with an earnings surprise. This time around, however, the lack of movement in implied volatility, as well as the proximity of the IV level to historical volatility, suggests that investors aren't expecting any surprises at all. In fact, this situation isn't specific to JPMorgan, but is also mirrored at Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs, and even quasi-financial General Electric. Not surprisingly, the bank ETFs, such as KBE, and the financial sector ETF, XLF, show a similar pattern.

No matter how the current earnings season unfolds, it's difficult to imagine that there won't be any surprises. Investors who think implied volatility is underestimating the surprise potential for the banks may look to initiate long straddles or long strangles to take advantage of a potential increase in implied volatility -- and hence, options prices.


Click to enlarge


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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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