Name That Trade – $COST: Whole Sale

by Dan December 8, 2014 12:20 pm • Commentary

Costco (COST) reports their fiscal Q1 results this Wednesday prior to the open. The options market is implying less than a 2% one day move in either direction, which is basically inline with the 4 qtr avg move.  One reason for the low implied move could be the fact the company just issued November sales store sales data that generally impressed Wall Street analysts with 5% traffic growth despite negative impact of 2% from FX  and 1.2% gas deflation.

The set up into Wednesday print is quite interesting as investors seem just a tad complacent about forward guidance.  With the stock at $143, the Dec 12th 143 straddle (long the call and the put) is offered at about $3.  If you bought that you would need a move by Friday’s close above $146 or below $140.  With the stock up 20% on the year, and up 30% from the 2014 lows, the move seems cheap with the stock less than 1% from all time highs.  The recent breakout above $130 was impressive, but I am hard pressed to think that the 10% gains since early November does not incorporate a solid Q1 and forward outlook:

COST 1yr chart from Bloomberg
COST 1yr chart from Bloomberg

Just as the stock is breaking out to daily all time highs it is important to note that the stock is getting expensive to its own history. It’s 30x trailing earnings and 27x fiscal 2015 that are only expected to grow 11% on sales growth of 7%

COST 7yr chart of trailing PE (orange) and forward PE (blue) from Bloomberg
COST 7yr chart of trailing PE (orange) and forward PE (blue) from Bloomberg

The recent move, despite paltry 1% dividend yield and the fact that the company is not likely buying back a ton of shares up here, suggests that investors are either willing to pay more for COST’s existing results and/or see consensus estimates too low.  Good ol’ fashioned multiple expansion at the all time highs into an event seems like a nasty cocktail in my opinion.

Short dated options in COST are not exactly expensive with 30 day at the money IV only about 15%, but it’s important to note that vol will settle in post results down about 10 -15% from current levels:  

[caption id="attachment_48759" align="aligncenter" width="600"]COST 30 day at the money IV from Bloomberg COST 30 day at the money IV from Bloomberg[/caption]

If I were long COST I would possibly look at stock replacement strategies to lock in gains and define risk going forward such as an in the money call spread like the April 140/155.

But the trader in me would be more inclined to play for pullback to the stock’s 50 day moving average near $134 or below. The trade I would consider as a defined risk contrarian short would be the Jan 140/130 put spread for $1.50, risk 1% of the stock price with potential to make more than 6x my money in the event of a 10% correction over the next 6 weeks.  This is not a high probability trade, but not particularly expensive, but break-even is at $138.50, down 3%, so you need to get direction right around earnings to be in the game.   I am going to do a bit more work on the story and take another look tomorrow prior to the print.