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option Trading, Price Discovery,

and Earnings News Dissemination*


KAUSHIK I. AMIN, Vice President
Lehman Brothers
CHARLES M. C. LEE, Associate Professor
Cornell University
Abstract. Option market activity increases by more than 10 percent in the four days
before quarterly earnings announcements. We show that the direction of this prean-
nouncement trading foreshadows subsequent earnings news. Specifically, we find
option traders initiate a greater proportion of long (short) positions immediately before
"good" ("bad") earnings news. Midquote returns to active-side option trades are posi-
tive during nonannouncement periods and are significantly higher immediately prior to
earnings announcements. Bid-ask spreads for options widen during the announcement
period, but traders do not gravitate toward high deita contracts. Collectively, the evi-
dence shows option traders participate generally in price discovery (the incorporation of
private information in price), and more specifically in the dissemination of earnings
news.
Condense
La valeur economique d'un titre de placement veritable provient, en partie, de sa qual-
ite d'instrument efficient, susceptible de permettre l'int^gration de l'information priv-
ilegiee dans les cours. Les contrats d'options sur actions, par exemple, sont des actifs
superflus en ce sens que leurs rendements peuvent etre reproduits de fa90n dynamique
grace a un portefeuille d'obligations et d'actions sans risque du capital-actions sous-
jacent. Toutefois, ainsi que Grossman en fait l'observation (1988, p. 275), le principe
voulant qu'un vrai titre soit superflu lorsqu'il peut etre synthetise grace a une strategie
de negociation dynamique ne tient pas compte du role informationnel des titres v6rita-
bles. Si les options sur actions peuvent parfois offrir une solution de rechange h. moin-
dre cout aux negociateurs disposant d'information privilegi6e, il est probable que les
marches d'options ameliorent I'efficience des cours des marches d'actions. Ce role
informationnel contribue a la valeur dconomique des options sur actions.
Les auteurs analysent ici le role informationnel de la negociation d'options dans la
formation des cours (l'int^gration de l'information privilegi6e dans les cours) et dans la
diffusion de l'information relative aux benefices. Jusqu'& maintenant, les chercheurs se
* Accepted by Lane Daley. The authors thank Charles Jones for providing research assistance.
James Myers, John O'Brien, Paul Seguin, Doug Skinner, Amy Sweeney, Robert Whaley, two
anonymous referees, and workshop participants at Laval University, Massachusetts Institute
of Technology, the University of Michigan, University of Southern California, Vanderbullt
University, and the University of Waterloo all provided helpful comments. Lee is grateful for
financial support from the KPMG Peat Marwick Foundation and the University of Michigan
Sanford R. Robertson Professorship Fund.
Contemporary Accounting Research Vol. 14 No. 2 (Summer 1997) pp. 153-192 CAAA
154 Contemporary Accounting Research
sont intdresses aux r6percussions des marches d'options en analysant les reactions des
marches d'actions a I'information relative aux bendfices, compte tenu de Vexistence de
march6s d'options'. Un theme revient constamment dans ces 6tudes : l'existence d'un
march6 d'options semble etre associ6e a une hausse de la rentabilitd du march6 des
actions. Pour les entreprises dont les options se negocient, l'ajustement du cours des
actions est plus rapide (Jennings et Starks, 1986), les reactions du cours a rinformation
relative aux b6nefices sont plus moderees (Skinner, 1990 ; Ho, 1993), et les glissements
du cours qui suivent les annonces sont moins prononces (Botosan et Skinner, 1993).
Si Ton en juge par ces observations, la negociation d'options contribue h I'effi-
cience globale des cours. Toutefois, ces etudes ne nous renseignent pas sur les m6can-
ismes de cette contribution. En se concentrant strictement sur les activites du march6
relatives aux actions sous-jacentes, les chercheurs ne s'interrogent pas sur le role de la
negociation d'options dans la diffusion de I'information et la formation des cours. La
mdthode propos6e ici est diff6rente du fait que les auteurs n'utilisent pas l'existence
d'un march6 d'options comme variable conditionnelle. Ils examinent plutot directement
les activitds de ndgociation d'options. Ils 6tudient plus pr6cis6ment le volume, le sens et
la rentabilitd des operations sur options qui precedent et suivent imm^diatement la pub-
lication de diverses informations inattendues relatives aux b6n6fices qu'il s'agisse de
bonnes ou de mauvaises nouvelles. A partir de donnees d6taillees relatives aux operations,
tirees de la base de donnees de Berkeley sur les options, les auteurs reinvent deux faits
nouveaux qui donnent k penser que les marches d'options ont un role informationnel.
Premierement, les auteurs constatent que le volume des op6rations sur les marches
d'options augmente plusieurs jours avant les annonces de b6n6fices. Contrairement a ce
que Ton observe sur les marches d'actions, oil les n6gociations ne commencent a s'in-
tensifier qu'au moment de l'annonce, le volume des op6rations sur options grimpe de 10
a 15 pour cent jusqu'a quatre jours avant une annonce de benefices. Comme sur les
marches d'actions, l'activite relative aux options demeure superieure ^ la normale pen-
dant plusieurs jours apres l'annonce. Toutefois, en controlant 1'intensification simul-
tan6e de la n6gociation d'actions. Ton constate que l'intensite de l'activite sur le marchfi
des options est disproportionnee seulement dans les trois ou quatre jours qui precedent
la publication d'information relative aux benefices. Le moment de l'annonce des b6n6-
fices 6tant previsible, ces observations donnent a penser que les n6gociateurs d'options
ajustent leurs positions en prevision de ces annonces-^.
Deuxiemement, les auteurs relevent certains faits demontrant que 1'intensity accrue
des negociations sur les march6s d'options prealable aux annonces de b6n6fices n'est
pas uniquement le resultat de la reaction des negociateurs au risque de volatilit6. En
d'autres termes, les negociateurs d'options anticipent non seulement l'ampleur du mou-
vement des cours (Patell et Wolfson, 1981), mais aussi la direction de ce mouvement.
Le plan de recherche adopte ici met a profit la precision des donn6es sectorielles pour
ddmontrer que la direction des operations sur options pr6alables aux annonces de b6n6-
fices presage du contenu de cette information. Plus pr6cis6ment, les auteurs notent une
plus grande proportion de positions acheteur (vendeur) adoptees par les n6gociateurs
instigateurs des operations immediatement avant la diffusion de bonnes (mauvaises)
nouvelles relatives aux b6nefices^. Cette constatation donne k penser que certains n6go-
ciateurs disposent d'information de qualite sup6rieure prealablement aux annonces de
b6n6fices. Ces observations relatives au volume directionnel des op6rations sur options
pr6alables aux annonces different des conclusions de Lee (1992) qui ne voit aucune
preuve de l'existence de negociations informees dans le d6sequilibre achat/vente des
op6rations sur actions avant les annonces de benefices. C'est pourquoi, avec celles de
Lee (1992), les conclusions des auteurs permettent de supposer que certains n6gocia-
teurs disposant d'information privilegi6e preferent n^gocier sur le march^ des options
(plutot que le marche des actions)".
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 155
Les auteurs font une troisieme eonstatation relide au role de la ndgociation d'op-
tions dans la formation des cours (I'integration de l'information privil6giee dans les
cours). Ils examinent plus precisement la sensibilite du cours des options et des actions
a Torientation que prennent les operations sur options qui entrent. Les Etudes recentes
sur la microstructure des marches montrent que, dans les march6s d'actions, les opera-
tions lancees h l'instigation de l'acheteur (du vendeur) tendent h etre suivies de revi-
sions h la hausse (a la baisse) de la cote. Ces mouvements sont la consequence naturelle
des couts des choix ddfavorables, les mainteneurs de marche ajustant leurs offres pour
tenir compte de l'information priviiegiee qui transparait dans les operations sur options
qui entrent'. Si les marches d'options jouent un role dans la formation des cours, le
cours des options (et, par 1'intermediaire de l'arbitrage, le cours des actions sous-
jacentes) reagira done a la direction des operations sur options qui entrent. En termes
precis, les operations sur options lancees a l'instigation de l'acheteur (du vendeur)
devraient preceder des hausses (des baisses) du cours. Inversement, si la formation des
cours ne s'applique qu'au marche des actions, les cotes sur le marche des options seront
exclusivement fixees en reaction aux mouvements des cotes sur le marche des actions,
et la direction que prennent les operations sur options qui entrent n'offrira aucun pou-
voir predictif des rendements ultedeurs.
Pour evaluer I'incidence de l'information relative aux benefices, les auteurs com-
parent le rendement au cours moyen pour l'instigateur de la negociation d'options, pen-
dant les annonces de benefices et pendant les pseudo-annonces d'un echantillon cor-
respondant. Pour chaque annonce veritable, une pseudo-annonce provenant de la meme
entreprise est produite a la meme heure, mais h une date aleatoire. Les rendements
enregistres par les instigateurs des negociations relatives a 50 operations precedant et
suivant immediatement les annonces vedtables sont ensuite compares aux rendements
des operations correspondantes entourant les pseudo-annonces. A l'aide d'une strategie
de negociation simple, les auteurs ouvrent des positions fondees sur la direction achat
ou vente des operations sur options et les liquident au terme de la seconde journee de
negociation suivant I'annonce (ou la pseudo-annonce).
Les auteurs constatent que les operations des instigateurs realisees au cours moyen
produisent des rendements h court terme de 1,5 a 3 pour cent pour les pedodes de pseu-
do-annonce. Ce resultat donne a penser que les negociateurs d'options participent h la
formation des cours, meme durant les pedodes oij aucune annonce n'est publiee*. Les
auteurs constatent, en outre, que ces rendements sont beaucoup plus eieves pendant les
annonces de benefices. Les operations sur options lancees immediatement avant les
annonces de benefices ont des rendements, fondes sur le cours moyen, de 2 a 5 pour cent
a la fin du deuxifeme jour suivant la date donnee, soit environ deux fois le rendement des
operations autour des pseudo-annonces correspondantes. Si ces operations sur options
avaient ete executees sur le marche des actions, moyennant le cours de la demiere
operation sur actions, les negociateurs auraient enregistre un rendement moyen plus
faible (mais toujours statistiquement significatif) de 0,2 pour cent. Ces constatations
montrent que les negociateurs d'options foumissent au marche de l'information priv-
iiegiee, aussi bien pendant les pedodes d'annonce que pendant les pedodes oil aucune
annonce n'est publiee.
Enfin, peu de faits temoignent de I'incidence de l'information relative aux benefices
sur les ecarts entre cours acheteur et vendeur des options et sur la nature des contrats
negocies. Les negociateurs informes qui preferent negocier des options ont & choisir
parmi un grand nombre de contrats. Une hypothese veut que ces negociateurs pourraient
preferer des contrats presentant des deltas absolus plus grands, parce que les options
ayant des deltas supedeurs offrent un effet de levier plus eieve par dollar investi'.
Toutefois, ainsi que le demontrent les auteurs, les contrats qui presentent un delta plus
affichent egalement des ecarts plus grands entre cours acheteur et vendeur. De plus.
156 Contemporary Accounting Research
les contrats k delta eieve tendent a etre associes a des negociations moins intenses, ce qui
limite l'itnportance de la position que les negociateurs renseignes peuvent prendre et aug-
mente la probabilite de detection. Dans le choix d'un contrat parmi ceux qui s'offrent il
eux, les negociateurs informes doivent done faire un compromis entre les avantages d'un
effet de levier plus grand, d'une part, et les couts supedeurs des ecarts entre cours
acheteur et vendeur et le risque de detection, d'autre part.
Conformement aux etudes recentes du marche des actions a I'interieur d'une
journee (par exemple. Lee, Mucklow et Ready, 1993), les auteurs constatent que les
ecarts efficaces entre cours acheteur et vendeur sur les contrats d'options augmentent
durant les periodes d'annonces de benefices. Toutefois, I'incidence economique de cette
augmentation est faible (les ecarts efficaces entre cours acheteur et vendeur sont de
5 pour cent plus eieves), et elle se concentre principalement dans la pedode posterieure
a I'annonce. Ce resultat suggere une breve augmentation du risque d'asymetrie de Tin-
formation dans la pedode qui suit immediatement la publication des benefices*. De plus,
les auteurs ne relevent aucun fait etablissant que la valeur absolue des deltas soit
superieure dans les operations qui ont lieu a proximite des annonces. En fait, le delta
absolu moyen des operations qui ont lieu h proximite des annonces est legerement
inferieur a la normale, en particulier dans la pedode qui precede I'annonce. L'on
peut en deduire, tout compte fait, que les negociateurs informes peuvent etre plus preoc-
cupes par la discretion de leurs operations que par l'obtention d'effets de levier plus
importants.
Dans leur ensemble, les constatations des auteurs donnent a penser que les negoci-
ateurs d'options participent de faon generale au processus de formation des cours en
general, et, en particulier, a la diffusion de l'information relative aux benefices. Les
etudes antedeures realisees sur les donnees relatives au marche des actions supposent
que I'existence des marches d'options favodse l'efficience du cours des actions en ce
qui a trait il l'information relative aux benefices. Les auteurs etablissent sans ambages
que cette amelioration est attribuable a l'information priviiegiee que les negociateurs
d'options foumissent au marche. Leurs constatations suggferent notamment que certains
negociateurs d'options disposent d'information pertinente aux cours relative aux
annonces de benefices a venir.
Les resultats de cette etude endchissent egalement la somme des connaissances sur
le lien intermarche entre actions et options. Les travaux recents nous laissent perplexes
quant h la rapidite du transfert de l'information entre les marches d'options et les
marches d'actions (par exemple, Stephan et Whaley, 1990, et Chan, Chung et Johnson,
1993). Ils font appel aux tests de causalite Granger-Sims, sans condition relative h un
signal d'information exogene. Dans la presente etude, au contraire, les auteurs isolent
les activites de negociation anormales qui se rattachent a un signal d'information connu
et qui denotent des negociations plus rapides et mieux edairees sur les marches d'op-
tions. Leurs conclusions donnent a penser que les operations du marche des options peu-
vent regir le marche des actions, au moins durant les pedodes de diffusion d'informa-
tion relative aux benefices.
Ces conclusions attribuent un role economique au marche des options & titre de
mecanisme efficient de formation des cours. Comme le suggere Grossman (1988), les
options ne sont pas simplement des titres superflus auxquels peuvent se substituer des
strategies dynamiques de negociation d'actions et d'obligations. Les resultats de la
presente etude en ce qui a trait h la vitesse et a la direction des operations sur options
vont plutot dans le sens de l'opinion selon laquelle certains negociateurs informes sont
d'abord interesses par le marche des options. En ce sens, le marche des options offre un
moyen economique d'integrer l'information nouvelle dans les cours.
Option Trading, Priee Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 157
Par exemple, voir Skinner (1990), Ho (1993), Jennings et Starks (1986), Botosan
et Skinner (1993). Les etudes generales de 1'incidence des produits deriv6s sur le
comportement du cours des actions presentent egalement un interet (par exemple,
Figlewski et Webh, 1993 ; Damodaran et Subrahmanyam, 1992 ; et Skinner,
1989), de meme que les etudes du lien intermarche entre les options et les actions
(par exemple, Stephan et Whaley, 1990 ; Chan, Chung et Johnson, 1993).
En utilisant les dates de publication anterieures, Kross et Schroeder, 1984,
montrent que plus de 80 pour cent des annonces de henefices se situent dans un
intervalle de trois jours par rapport a la date prevue. Les entretiens des auteurs
avec les interesses et les specialistes permettent de croire que les n6gociateurs
disposent meme souvent d"information encore plus precise au sujet des dates de
publication.
Les auteurs definissent les positions acheteur et vendeur par rapport au titre sous-
jacent. Par exemple, I'achat d'une option d'achat et la vente d'une option de
vente sont tous deux consideres comme des positions acheteur. Ils utilisent une
technique analogue a celle de Lee et Ready, 1991, et de Harris, 1989, pour
determiner l'instigateur de chaque operation c'est-a-dire qui, de l'acheteur ou
du vendeur, lance l'operation.
Fait a noter, les conclusions montrent que certaines informations privilegiees sont
d'abord integrees dans les eours sur le marche des options. Le resultat ohtenu ici
touche a la question de savoir si les marches d'options, en moyenne, regissent les
marches d'actions, sans porter directement sur ce sujet (soit celui des etudes
ant6rieures de Battacharya, 1987 ; Anthony, 1988h ; Stephan et Whaley, 1990 ;
Chan, Chung et Johnson, 1993).
Hashrouck, 1988, Lee et Ready, 1991, et Petersen et Umlauf, 1991, rapportent ce
phenomene empirique sur les marches d'actions. Voir Glosten et Milgrom, 1985,
et Easley et O'Hara, 1987, pour des exemples de modeles structures dans le cadre
desquels cet effet peut etre ohserve.
Les rendements du marche des options a court terme dont il est question ici ne
doivent pas etre confondus avec les rendements realisables, ajustes pour tenir
compte du risque, comme dans Whaley et Cheung, 1982. Les tests ont ici pour
but de detecter les changements de direction dans le flux des ordres qui entrent.
Ils ne sont pas conjus pour offrir une estimation des rendements economiques
cordges pour tenir compte du risque.
Le delta d'une option (defini comme etant 3C/3S, ou C est le prix du contrat et S
le cours de 1'action) mesure la sensibilite du prix du contrat aux fluctuations du
cours de I'action sous-jacente. Les options d'achat ont des deltas positifs, tandis
que les options de vente ont des deltas negatifs.
Le modele typique d'asymetrie de l'information (par exemple, Copeland et Galai,
1983, et Glosten et Milgrom, 1985) suppose deux types de negociateurs : les
negociateurs informes et les negociateurs qui se confinent a la liquidite . Les
negociateurs informes negocient parce qu'ils disposent d'information privilegi6e
qui ne se reflete pas encore dans les cours, tandis que les negociateurs de
liquidite negocient pour des raisons autres que la possession d'une meilleure
information. Les mainteneurs de marche soutiennent les pertes decoulant de la
negociation avec des negociateurs informes, et ils recuperent ees pertes grace aux
ecarts entre cours acheteur et vendeur. Selon ces modeles, plus l'asymetrie de
l'information est grande entre les negociateurs informes et les negociateurs de
liquidite, plus les ecarts sont grands. Toujours selon ces modeles, l'asymetrie du
risque lie a l'information peut augmenter avec une hausse dans la proportion des
negociateurs qui sont informes ou une augmentation de la precision de leur
information.
158 Contemporary Accounting Research
The economic value of a real security derives, in part, from its usefulness as a
cost-effective vehicle for iocorporatiog private ioformatioo ioto prices. Equity
optioo cootracts, for example, are reduodaot assets io the seose that their
returos cao be dyoamically replicated by a portfolio of riskless bonds and
shares of the underlying stock. However, as Grossman (1988, 275) observes,
"the notion that a real security is redundant when it can be synthesized by a
dynamic trading strategy ignores the informational role of real securities." If
equity options can sometimes provide a lower cost trading alternative for pri-
vately informed traders, it is likely that option markets will enhance the price
efficiency of equity markets. This informational role contributes to the eco-
nomic value of equity options.
This study investigates the informational role of option trading in price dis-
covery (the incorporation of private information in prices) and in the dissemi-
oatioo of earoiogs news. Prior studies examioed the effect of optioo markets by
analyzing stock market reactions to earnings news, conditional on the avail-
ability of option markets.' A recurrent theme in these studies is that option
market availability appears to be associated with increased price efficiency in
the equity market. For firms with traded options, the stock price adjustment is
faster (Jennings aod Starks 1986), market price reactioos to earniogs oews are
smaller (Skiooer 1990; Ho 1993), and postannouncement price drifts are less
pronounced (Botosan and Skinner 1993).
These studies suggest that option trading contributes to overall price effi-
ciency. However, they do not examine how this contribution occurs. By focus-
ing solely 00 market activities io the uoderlyiog stock, these studies do oot
address the role of optioo tradiog io oews dissemioatioo aod price discovery.
The approach io this study differs in that we do oot use the existence of the
option market as a cooditiooiog variable. Instead, we examine option trading
activities directly. Specifically, we investigate the volume, directioo, aod prof-
itability of optioo trades immediately arouod the release of differeot earnings
news surprisesthat is, "good" and "bad" news earnings. Using detailed trans-
action data from the Berkeley Options database, we report new evideoce that
suggests an informational role for option markets.
First, we find that option-market trading volume increases several days
before earnings aooouocemeots. Io cootrast to equity markets, where abnormal
tradiog does oot begio until the aooouocemeot date, option volume is 10 to 15
percent higher up to four days before an earnings announcement. As in equity
markets, options activity remains higher thao normal for several days after the
anoouocemeot. However, cootrolling for contemporaneous increases in equity
trading, we find that option market activity is disproportionately high only in
the three to four days before the earnings news release. Because the timing of
earnings news announcements is predictable, our findings suggest that optioo
traders adjust their positions io aoticipatioo of these aooouocemeots.'^
Secoodly, we fiod some evideoce that iocreased preaonouncement option
trading reflects more than trader response to volatility risk. That is, option
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 159
traders anticipate not only the magnitude of a price reaction (Patell and Wolfson
1981), but also its direction. Our research design exploits the precision of trade-
by-trade data to show that the direction of preannouncement option trades fore-
shadows the earnings news. Specifically, we find a greater proportion of long
(short) positions initiated by active-side traders immediately before good (bad)
earnings news.^ This finding suggests that some traders have superior informa-
tion prior to earnings announcements. The directional volume of preannounce-
ment option trades contrasts with Lee (1992), who finds no evidence of
informed trading in the buy/sell imbalance of equity trades prior to earnings
announcements. Therefore, with Lee, our findings imply that some privately
informed traders may prefer to trade in the option (versus equity) market.''
Our third finding relates to the role of option trading in price discovery
(i.e., the incorporation of private information into price). Specifically, we
examine the sensitivity of option and equity prices to the direction of incoming
option trades. Recent studies in market microstructure show that, in equity mar-
kets, buyer-initiated (seller-initiated) trades tend to be followed by upward
(downward) revisions in the quoted price. These movements are a natural con-
sequence of adverse selection costs, because market makers adjust their quotes
to reflect the private information revealed in the incoming trades.^ If option
markets play a role in price discovery, then option prices (and, through arbi-
trage, prices of the underlying stock) will be responsive to the direction of
incoming option trades. Specifically, buyer-initiated (seller-initiated) option
trades should precede price increases (decreases). Conversely, if price discov-
ery occurs purely in the equity market, quote prices in the option market will
be set entirely in response to quote movements in the equity market, and the
direction of incoming option trades will have no predictive power for subse-
quent returns.
To assess the impact of earnings news, we compare the midquote return to
active-side option trading during earnings announcements and during a
matched sample of "pseudo-announcements." For each actual news announce-
ment, we generate a pseudo-announcement using the same firm and time of
day, but a random date. We then compare returns to active-side trading on the
50 trades immediately before and after the actual announcements to the returns
on the corresponding trades around pseudo-announcements! Using a simple
trading strategy, we open positions based on the buy or sell direction of option
trades and unwind them at the end of the second day of trading after the
announcement (or pseudo-announcement).
We find that active-side trades executed at midquote prices generate short-
term returns of 1.5 to 3 percent for pseudo-announcement periods. This result
suggests that option traders participate in price discovery even during nonan-
nouncement periods.^ Furthermore, we find that these returns are significantly
higher during earnings announcements. Option trades initiated immediately
before earnings announcements have midquote returns of 2 to 5 percent by the
end of Day +2, about twice the return on corresponding pseudo-announcement
160 Contemporary Accounting Research
trades. If these option trades bad been executed in the equity market at the price
of the last stock trade, the traders would have received a lower (but still statis-
tically significant) average return of 0.2 percent. These findings show that
option traders bring private information to market, both during announcement
and nonannouncement periods.
Finally, we provide limited evidence for the effect of earnings news on
option bid-ask spreads and the types of contracts traded. Informed traders elect-
ing to trade via options face a menu of contracts. One conjecture is that these
traders migbt prefer contracts with greater absolute deltas, because higher delta
options offer higher leverage per dollar invested.' However, as we show, high-
er delta contracts also have wider bid-ask spreads. Moreover, higher delta con-
tracts tend to have lower trading activity, thus limiting the size of the position
informed traders can take and increasing the likelihood of detection. In choos-
ing among available contracts, informed traders must, therefore, trade off the
benefits of greater leverage against the higher costs from bid-ask spreads and
the risk of detection.
Consistent with recent intraday studies of the equity market (e.g.. Lee,
Mucklow, and Ready 1993), we find that effective bid-ask spreads on option
contracts increase during earnings announcement periods. However, the eco-
nomic effect of the increase is small (effective bid-ask spreads are 5 percent
higher) and is focused primarily in the postannouncement period. This result
suggests a brief increase in information asymmetry risk in the period immedi-
ately after the earnings release. ^ In addition, we find no evidence of higher
absolute deltas in announcement trades. In fact, the average absolute delta of
announcement trades is slightly lower tban normal, particularly in the prean-
nouncement period. This finding suggests tbat, on balance, informed traders
may be more concerned with disguising their trades than with obtaining greater
leverage.
In summary, this study provides new evidence on the role of option trad-
ing in price discovery and earnings news dissemination. We show that, when
option trading is available, the option market is an important vehicle for
response to earnings news. Moreover, we find that the buy/sell activities of
option traders bring private information to market, wbich is then impounded in
price. Collectively, our findings suggest that option traders participate in the
price discovery process in general, and in the dissemination of earnings news
in particular.
The remainder of the paper is organized as follows. The next section
reviews related papers and formulates the hypotheses. The third section
describes the sample and data used. Section 4 reports results of the empirical
tests. The final section summarizes our findings and their implications.
Development of hypotheses
Stock options are derivative financial contracts tbat offer potentially reduced
transaction costs and increased financial leverage, relative to trading the under-
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 161
lying stock. A call (put) option gives its owner the right to buy (sell) a fixed
number of shares of a specified stock at a fixed price at any time on or before
a given date. The return patterns of option contracts can be replicated by a
dynamically adjusted portfolio of riskless bonds and shares of the underlying
stock. Therefore, option contracts and shares of the underlying stock differ
mainly in terms of their transaction costs. With concurrent trading in essential-
ly redundant assets, investors should gravitate toward the market with lower
overall costs.'
Many authors (e.g.. Black 1975; Cox and Rubinstein 1985; Manaster and
Rendleman 1982; and Skinner 1990) have argued that privately informed
traders may prefer the cost structure in the option market,'" that is, relative to
trading in the underlying equity, option traders may find more favorable implic-
it borrowing rates, lower margin requirements, and less stringent restrictions on
short-selling (both in terms of the Uptick Rule in equity markets and the inter-
est on the proceeds of short-selling). Moreover, some information, such as that
related to future volatility of stock prices, can be more easily exploited in the
option market. For traders with private information and wealth constraints,
these differences translate into greater leverage per dollar invested. In particu-
lar, traders with short-lived information about upcoming news events may pre-
fer the option market.
An alternative view is that option markets are informationally redundant,
that is, prices in option markets are purely a by-product of price discovery
activities in the stock market. This view finds expression in Stephan and
Whaley (1990), who report that, on average, stock option transaction price
changes occur 15 or 20 minutes after stock price changes. Chan, Chung, and
Johnson (1993) verify the Stephan and Whaley results and then go on to docu-
ment that, when stock option bid/ask midpoints are used, the markets' price
changes appear simultaneous. One interpretation of these findings is that option
markets are highly illiquid and costly relative to the stock market; hence, infor-
mation trading takes place in the stock market where transaction costs (and the
likelihood of detection) may be less.
In this study, we investigate four issues related to the role of option trad-
ing in the dissemination of earnings news. First, we document the extent and
timing of option volume increases around the release of earnings news, that is,
we examine the extent to which traders use the option market as an alternative
vehicle of response to earnings news. Second, we use directional trading vol-
ume (buy/sell activities) to examine whether option traders are better informed
about earnings information than stock traders. Third, we evaluate the role of
option trading in price discovery by studying the returns to initiators of option
trades. Finally, we provide preliminary evidence on the types of contracts pre-
ferred by informed traders.
162 Contemporary Accounting Research
Do option traders react to earnings news?
Our first goal is to provide large sample evidence about the extent of option
trading associated with eamings news. Schachter (1988) shows that open inter-
est declines prior to earnings announcements, particularly for contracts whose
values are most sensitive to volatility. Because open interest measures only the
total number of contracts outstanding, it does not capture investor reaction
associated with earnings information." Anthony (1988a) studies option trading
around earnings news and reports elevated activity levels up to 10 days before
earnings releases. However, he uses a sample of only 10 firms and does not
examine the direction of these trades in relation to earnings news. In this study,
we use a sample consisting of all firms cross-listed on the American or New
York Stock Exchange (AMEX or NYSE) and the Chicago Board of Options
Exchange (CBOE) to evaluate the extent of option trading around earnings
news releases. Because the option and equity markets are linked through arbi-
trage, we expect traders to use both markets in responding to earnings news.
The extant evidence on the relative speed of price and volume adjustment
across option and equity markets is mixed. Manaster and Rendleman (1982),
Battacharya (1987), and Anthony (1988b) suggest that the option market leads
the equity market. However, Stephan and Whaley (1990) raise questions about
the test design of these studies. Using intraday data and the Granger (1969) and
Sims (1972) causality test, Stephan and Whaley report that price changes and
volume in the equity market lead the option market by fifteen minutes or more.
Most recently, Chan et al. (1993) use midquote prices to show that quote
changes are approximately contemporaneous across the two markets.
In contrast to these earlier studies, we examine the relative timing of the
trading activity in the two markets by conditioning on a news event: the Broad
Tape release of quarterly earnings. The exogenous earnings signal, time
stamped to the nearest minute, allows us to isolate the abnormal trading activ-
ity in the two markets. This research design allows us to compare the relative
timing and direction of the volume reactions in the equity and option markets,
with a view towards understanding the different roles played by each in infor-
mation dissemination.'^
We hypothesize that volume reaction in the option market will lead equity
volume reaction for two reasons. First, option traders anticipate earnings
announcements and adjust their position in anticipation of increased volatility.
Earnings news are known to increase price volatility risk, which traders can
manage using option contracts. Some traders may place speculative bets that
cannot be implemented by trading in stocks, others may close out positions to
avoid the announcement risk.'^ If volatility-plays increase prior to earnings
announcements, then option volume will lead equity volume. Secondly, to cap-
italize on their private information, better informed traders with capital con-
straints may also gravitate toward the option market. We investigate both pos-
sibilities.
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 163
Do option traders have advance knowledge of earnings news?
To assess the extent of private information brought to market by option traders,
we examine the buying and selling activities of active-side option traders. The
optioo market on the CBOE is a continuous agency auction, in which compet-
ing market makers post tradable quotes.''' In this type of continuous auction,
the active side of each trade is defined as the side that initiated the trade. We
use an algorithm similar to Harris (1989) aod Lee aod Ready (1991) to identi-
fy each trade as either buyer- or seller-initiated. We then classify option trades
as either long or short positions relative to the underlying stock. A long posi-
tion is the purchase of a call or the sale of a put option. A short position is the
purchase of a put or the sale of a call option. If initiators of option trades have
knowledge of forthcoming news, we expect to observe a greater proportion of
long (short) position trades immediately before good (bad) news.
Several studies suggest that certain traders may have foreknowledge of
earnings news, obtained through information leaks (Seppi 1992; Seyhun 1992)
or increased information collection activities (Kim and Verrecchia 1991). In
particular, the buy/sell direction of both block trades (Seppi) and of insider
trades (Seyhun) anticipates earnings news. However, Lee (1992) finds that, on
average, the buy/sell imbalance of equity trades immediately before earnings
annouocemeots does not foreshadow upcomiog oews. We apply Lee's approach
to option data. If informed traders gravitate to option markets before earnings
announcements, we should observe a higher proportion of long (short) posi-
tions taken before good (bad) oews.
Are prices responsive to option trades?
A secood method of assessiog the ioformatioo value of optioo trades is by
studyiog the profitability of such trades. Earlier studies based oo the Black-
Scholes model suggest that optioos markets may oot be perfectly price efficieot
(e.g., Galai 1977, 1978). However, later studies show that after traosactioo
costs, it is difficult to make systematic aboormal returos by tradiog options. In
particular, Phillips and Smith (1980) identify the bid-ask spread as the largest
cost facing option traders. Phillips and Smith show that quoted spreads on
optioos are 6 to 10 percent of the contract price, whereas quoted spreads on
stocks are typically less than 1 percent of the stock price.'^ If market makers
set sufficiently wide spreads in options, option traders will not, on average,
make abnormal tradiog profits.
The fiodiog that spreads are wider for optioo contracts thao for stocks is
coosisteot with the preseoce of more ioformed traders io the option market, that
is, if options market makers face a greater risk of trading with informed traders
than do their equity counterparts, bid-ask spreads should be wider in the option
market.'* Faced with wider spreads in the option market, informed traders may
choose to trade in the equity market instead.
This tension between increased leverage and wider spreads is modeled by
John, Koticha, and Subrahmanyam (1991). Their model examines the vehicle
164 Contemporary Accounting Research
of choice for informed traders when concurrent trading is available in options
and equities. In equilibrium, they find that both informed and liquidity traders
divide their trades between the option and equity markets. However, their
model does not address the pattern of informed trading immediately before an
information event. In theory, market makers should respond to increased infor-
mation asymmetry risk by widening spreads prior to an anticipated earnings
release,'^ but unless the timing of the event is fully anticipated, market makers
are unlikely to set sufficiently wide spreads to deter all informed trading.
Consequently, informed traders may still find an advantage in preannounce-
ment trading.
In sum, informed traders confront a trade-off in choosing between trading
venues. They need to balance the higher liquidity costs of the option market
against the greater leverage it offers. On the one hand, options are more costly
per unit of (ie/?a-adjusted position; on the other hand, far fewer contracts are
needed to participate in an anticipated price move. Ultimately, the decision may
hinge on the likelihood of detection. If informed traders can sometimes obtain
a greater lie/fa-adjusted position (or action) in options before detection, we
should expect to observe some informed trading in options. Earnings news
releases offer an attractive setting for examining this question, because the like-
lihood of an imminent price move increases the payoff to informed trading.
Data and sample selection
The firms for this study were selected from the Institute for the Study of
Security Markets (ISSM) and the Berkeley Options (CBOE) databases for 1988
and 1989. The ISSM data contain trade and quote information for all NYSE and
AMEX firms, whereas the CBOE data contains similar information for option
contracts on firms listed at the Chicago Board of Options Exchange. A total of
147 firms were listed for the two full years on both the CBOE and the ISSM
tapes. Of these firms, three were utilities with regulated earnings of limited
interest to traders; two firms were offshore ADRs (Hanson PLC and Hitachi
Ltd. ADR); and one was Student Loan Marketing, for which only nonvoting
shares are traded. Eliminating these six firms resulted in a final sample of 141
firms, representing all cross-listed firms on the two markets over the study peri-
od. These firms are listed in Appendix 1. Except for three AMEX companies
(AMH, FRX, PLL), all our sample firms are listed on the NYSE.
The CBOE data contain all option trades and quote revisions, time stamped
to the nearest second. For each put or call traded, the database contains the time
of execution, expiration date, strike price, trade price, and trade volume, as well
as the stock price of the last equity trade at the time of option execution. Each
quote revision contains the execution time, expiration date, strike price, bid and
ask prices, and the concurrent stock price.'^ The Chicago Board of Options
Exchange begins trading each day at 8:30 a.m. CST (9:30 a.m. EST) and con-
cludes at 3:15 p.m. CST (4:15 p.m. EST). Option trading commences at the
same time equity trading begins on the New York Stock Exchange and ends 15
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 165
minutes after the New York market closes. Our study period predates the large
scale multiple-listing of options on several exchanges. Therefore, with the
exception of four firms, our dataset captures the entire options volume for each
firm.'9
We obtained the intraday time of earnings announcements for our sample
firms from the Dow Jones News Retrieval Service (DJNS, or Broad Tape). All
quarterly earnings announcements were identified for our sample of 141 firms.
The DJNS news release provides the time of the release to the nearest minute.
In the case of multiple releases of the same earnings news, we select the first
release after the fiscal quarter end. Because the DJNS begins each day around
6:45 a.m. CST and continues until approximately 5:45 p.m. CST, an announce-
ment may occur before the option market opens or after it closes. For our daily
analysis, we categorize announcements made when the CBOE is closed (here-
after, overnight announcements) as arriving immediately before opening the
next day.
In some of our tests, we use the Value Line Investment Survey forecast of
quarterly earnings per share (EPS) from issue immediately preceding the
announcement date to proxy for market expectations about earnings.
Announcements in which the actual reported EPS exceed the Value Line fore-
cast are identified as "good" news, whereas those where actual EPS is lower
than the Value Line forecast are "bad" news. To ensure EPS is calculated con-
sistently, we checked the reported EPS from the DJNS against the actual EPS
from the Value Line issue immediately after the announcement. In the few
cases the EPSs do not match, we use the Value Line figure.
Although all 141 firms are cross-listed, several firms had little option trad-
ing volume. To reduce outliers caused by skewed nonannouncement reference
distributions, we require firms to meet minimal levels of option trading activi-
ty. Specifically, in our daily analyses, we required that firms have an average
of at least one option trade per day, eliminating nine firms from the sample.
Results
Daily volume analyses
To evaluate trading volume reaction to earnings news across the two markets,
we first document the daily abnormal trading in each market. Figure 1 reports
the daily abnormal trading volume in the market for the underlying stock, as
well as in call and put options. For this analysis, the event window is the 21
days centered on the DJNS announcement date. Daily abnormal volume for
each firm is defined as the actual daily volume (in contracts or shares traded),
minus the mean daily volume for the firm from nonevent days, expressed as a
percentage deviation from the nonevent period mean. The reported average
abnormal trading volume is the daily abnormal volume averaged across all
firms. We report results at 1, 5, and 10 percent significance levels, based on
two-tailed cross-sectional t tests.
166 Contemporary Accounting Research
Figure 1 Abnormal trading volume around the release of earnings
2
I
f
60-
50-
40-
30-
20-
10-
0.
-10-
-20-
Panel A: Abnormal trading in equity market
I I I
Panel B: Abnormal trading in call options
60-
50.
'40-
30-
20.
10-
0.
-10-
-20-
Panel C: Abnormal trading in put options
-ff
l t 1 II I '
Date relative to announcement of eamings news
These graphs depict the abnormal trading volume around quarterly earnings news releases in
the equity market, and in the market for call and put options. All firms cross-listed on the
NYSE and the CBOE for both 1988 and 1989 are included. Abnormal trading is expressed
as percentage deviation from the daily mean for each firm and averaged across all firms.
Two-tailed significance levels: ^ 1%; ^ 5%; CD 10%.
Figure 1, panel A, shows that the stock market volume reaction is focused
on Day 0 and Day +1, relative to the DJNS announcement. On these two days.
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 167
the trading volume in stocks is approximately 35 percent higher than normal.
The magnitude of this increase is comparable to volume increases found for
large firms in earlier studies (e.g.. Lee 1992; and Bamber 1986, t987).
Consistent with prior work, we find that trading volume in the stock market
remains high for over a week after the earnings news release. Also consistent
with prior results, we find little evidence of increased stock trading in the days
immediately prior to the DJNS announcement.
In Figure t, panels B and C report the abnormal volume reaction to earn-
ings news in call and put contracts. These figures show that option trading
increases around the release of earnings information. As with the stock market
reaction, the abnormal volume in options is most pronounced on Day 0 and Day
+t , when abnormal option volume is also approximately 35 percent higher than
normal. These findings support the hypothesis that option markets provide
traders with an alternative vehicle for responding to earnings announcements.
In Figure t, the most striking difference between the stock and option vol-
ume reactions occurs in the days leading up to the announcement. For both call
and put options, we find increased levels of trading at least three days before
the announcement. This finding is consistent with Anthony (t988a), who finds
that option trading volume increases as early as 10 days before earnings
announcements. The increased preannouncement volume may reflect specula-
tion based on expectations of higher volatility, the closing out of positions by
risk-averse investors, or informed trading. We examine reasons for the
increased preannouncement volume in our intraday analyses.
Because trading across the option and equity markets is contemporaneous-
ly correlated, we examine option market volume reaction after controlling for
stock volume. We present the results of this analysis in Table 1. The dependent
variables for these regressions are the daily number of trades in either calls
(CTrd) or puts (PTrd)P The independent variables are the daily number of
stock trades (STrd) and stock shares (SVol) transacted, as well as indicator vari-
ables for the 13 trading days around quarterly earnings announcements. All vol-
ume measures are expressed as percentage deviations from nonevent period
means. Models t and 2 regress option volume on the event indicator variables;
Models 3 and 4 regress CTrd or PTrd on the stock volume variables; and Models
5 and 6 combine both event period indicators and stock volume variables.
Regressing option volume on stock volume results in adjusted R2S of 42.3
percent and 16.6 percent for call volume and put volume, respectively. These
results indicate that stock volume accounts for a significant portion of the daily
variations in option market volume. Interestingly, controlling for the increase
in stock volume, we find that the abnormal volume in options occurs primarily
in the days before the DJNS news release (Models 5 and 6). On Days - 4 to - 2,
we observe unusually high option trading relative to the stock trading. Again,
the evidence shows elevated levels of option trading immediately before earn-
ings news.
168 Contemporary Accounting Research
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Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination i69
trades should be correlated with the earnings news. As a first test of this
hypothesis, we compute the proportion of long and short positions taken on the
options traded immediately around the release of earnings news. We define
long and short positions in terms of the underlying stock. Therefore, a long
position is the purchase of a call or the sale of a put option, whereas a short
position is the purchase of a put or the sale of a call option. If initiators of
option trades have advance knowledge of earnings news, we should observe a
greater proportion of long (short) position trades immediately before good
(bad) news announcements.
To implement this test, we use an algorithm for classifying option trades
into buyer- and seller-initiated transactions. Similar to Harris (1989) and Lee
and Ready (1991), we infer the buy/sell direction of each trade by comparing
the trade price to the prevailing quote prices for the given option contract. We
classify each trade as buyer-initiated if it is closer to the ask price, and seller-
initiated if it is closer to the bid price. Trades that are exactly at the midpoint
of the prevailing spread (midspread trades) are considered indeterminable in
direction and are excluded. Lee and Ready use a "tick test," based on prior
price changes, to classify midspread trades in their study of equity trading.
However, because trading in a given option contract is much less frequent than
it is in a stock, the tick test is not as reliable for option markets. Moreover, our
preliminary tests indicate that midspread trades are far less frequent in options,
so the advantage of the tick test for this study is minimal.
Table 2 reports the frequency and proportion of long and short positions
taken in the option market immediately before and after earnings releases. For
this analysis, good (bad) news events are those in which the actual reported
earnings are greater (less) than the most recent Value Line forecast.
Announcements with no Value Line forecast, or with actual earnings equal to
forecasted earnings, are excluded. Long positions are buyer-initiated calls or
seller-initiated puts; short positions are seller-initiated calls or buyer-initiated
puts. To simplify the table, we report trades in groups of 10. We include all
trades classifiable as buys and sells between the beginning of trading on Day
- 2 and the end of trading on Day +2.^' Each announcement also is limited to
the 50 trades immediately before and after the DJNS news release time. Panel
A reports the results in transaction time, with trades reported in groups of ten.
Panel B reports the results in clock time, with trades grouped in two-hour trad-
ing intervals around the DJNS release time.
Consistent with Vijh (1988), Table 2 shows a greater proportion of long
positions for both good news and bad news announcements.^^ More important-
ly, we find good news announcements are preceded by a greater percentage of
long position option trades than are bad news announcements. Panel A shows
that, before good news announcements, 54.8 percent of option trades are long
positions, compared to 53.2 percent for bad news announcements. Statistically,
the difference is significant at the 1 percent level in a two-tailed, chi-squared
test {z statistic=2.36). The preannouncement result suggests that the direction
170 Contemporary Accounting Research
of option trades foreshadows the sign of the earnings news "surprise," as prox-
ied by the Value Line forecast error.
TABLE 2
Long and short positions taken in option contracts around earnings news that either
exceed (good news) or are less than (bad news) the most recent Value Line earnings
forecast*
Panel A: Results
Timing of trade
relative to DJNS
announcement
-50 to - 4t
-40 t o-31
-30 t o-21
-20 t o-11
- l Ot o - 1
Total pre-
announcement
+ 1 to +10
+ 11 to+20
+21 to+30
+31 to +40
+41 to +50
> in transaction time
Good
Long
positions
827
992
1167
1228
1470
5684
1485
1365
1246
1197
1043
(50 trades)
news earnings
Short
positions
706
774
893
1022
1290
4685
1445
1121
997
848
815
Percent
long
53.9
56.2
56.7
54.6
53.3
54.8
50.7
54.9
55.6
58.5
56.1
Bad
Long
positions
871
tO15
1035
1234
1536
5691
1632
1476
1310
U41
1004
news earnings
Short
positions
723
771
970
1083
1461
5008
1452
1103
989
966
976
Percent
long
54.6
56.8
51.6
53.3
51.3
53.2
52.9
57.2
57.0
54.2
50.7
Difference
(z stat)
-0.36
-0.34
+3.21
+0.89
+ 1.51
+2.36
-1.70
-1.64
-0.96
+2.82
+3.37
Total post-
announcement
6336 5226 54.8 6563 5486 54.5 +0.51
Panel B: Results in clock time (two-hour trading intervals)
Good news earnings Bad news earnings
Clock time Long
relative to positions
announcement
< -8 hours
- 8 to - 6 hours
- 6 to - 4 hours
- 4 to - 2 hours
- 2 hrs to - 1 min.
Total pre-
announcement
+0 min. to +2 hrs
+2 to +4 hours
+4 to +6 hours
+6 to +8 hours
> +8 hours
Total post-
announcement
235
349
672
1071
3357
5684
3722
1029
536
543
506
6336
Short
positions
209
308
602
839
2727
4685
2848
909
488
453
528
5226
Percent
long
52.9
53.1
52.7
56.1
55.2
54.8
56.7
53.1
52.3
54.5
48.9
54.8
Long
positions
226
311
637
1053
3464
5691
3887
1066
650
474
486
6563
Short
positions
221
313
613
904
2957
5008
2950
1002
604
405
525
5486
Percent
long
50.6
49.8
51.0
53.8
53.9
53.2
56.9
51.5
51.8
53.9
48.1
54.5
Difference
(z stat)
+0.67
+ 1.12
+0.88
+ 1.39
+ 1.37
+2.36
-0.21
+0.95
+0.21
+0.23
+0.35
+0.51
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 171
* This table reports the frequency and proportion of long and short positions taken in the option
market immediately before and after good and bad news earnings releases. Long positions are
buyer-initiated calls or seller-initiated puts; short positions are seller-initiated calls or buyer-
initiated puts. Good (bad) news events are those in which the actual reported earning is greater
(less) than the most recent Value Line forecast. Announcement times are obtained from the
Dow Jones News Service (DJNS), and all trades classifiable as buys or sells and executed
within two trading days of the DJNS release time are included. Panel A reports results in
transaction time (for the 50 trades immediately around the release time), and Panel B reports
results in clock time (in 2-hour trading intervals around the release time). The z statistics are
based on a chi-squared test of the null hypothesis that the long and short positions taken are
uncorrelated with the earnings signal.
The proportion of long positions in postannouncement trades is not signif-
icantly different for the good news and bad news samples. This finding is con-
sistent with prior evidence (e.g.. Lee 1992 and Patell and Wolfson 1984) that
prices adjust to the new equilibrium quickly. Using the postannouncement pro-
portions as a benchmark, most of the directional shift in preannouncement vol-
ume appears to derive from an increase in the proportion of short positions
taken before bad news announcements. Panel B realigns these trades by clock
time. This panel shows that the increase in short position before bad news grad-
ually occurs over the two trading days prior to the DJNS news release.
The Value Line forecast error provides an exogenous measure of the earn-
ings surprise that is independent ofthe price formation process. However, there
are several potential problems witb this approach. First, these forecasts can be
noisy proxies for market expectations at the time of the announcement. These
forecasts are often stale (issued up to seven weeks earlier) and may not reflect
more current information, including voluntary preannouncement disclosures,
which appeared after the forecasts. Therefore, conditioning on the Value Line
forecast error may introduce noise about the nature of the news event, making
informed trading more difficult to detect. Second, the DJNS announcement
time may not be precisely aligned with CBOE trading times. If earnings news
is publicly available to option traders before the DJNS time stamp. Table 2
findings may not represent privately informed option trading.
TABLE 3
Classification of earnings announcements*
Price
change
Good news
Bad news
Neutral news
Total
Good
news
224
197
46
467
Value Line
Bad
news
209
249
40
498
Neutral
news
24
21
5
50
Total
457
467
91
1015
This table reports the joint frequency distribution of earnings announcements classified as
good and bad news using the sign of the Value Line forecast error and the sign of the price
change. Under the Value Line method, good (bad) news events are those in which the actual
172 Contemporary Accounting Research
reported earning is greater (less) than the most recent Value Line forecast. When the Value
Line forecast is missing or when the reported earnings is equal to the Value Line forecast, the
event is classified as neutral news. Under the price change method, good (bad) news events
are those in which the price change from the midpoint of the quote at the time of the announce-
ment to the end of Day +2 is positive (negative). Neutral news pertains to events with zero
price change. Table values represent the number of announcements in each category.
Table 3 reports the joint frequency distribution of earnings announcements
classified as good or bad news using the sign of the Value Line forecast error
and the sign of the price change from the time of the announcement to the end
of trading on Day +2. The results in this table show that although the two clas-
sification methods yield positively correlated results, they are far from being
identical. In 406 announcements (over 40 percent). Value Line's good (bad)
news classification conflicts with the actual price change during the announce-
ment period.
As an alternative to Value Line forecast errors, we use the sign of the two-
day price change after the DJNS announcement to classify announcements as
good (bad) news events. This method eliminates the concern that some firms
may release voluntary preannouncement information. Because the prean-
nouncement trades in our study take place before the subsequent price move,
this method also eliminates the concern that the price-relevant news was pub-
licly known prior to the preannouncement trades.
TABLE 4
Long and short positions taken in option contracts around earnings news that result in
either a positive return (good news) or negative return (bad news)*
Panel A: Results in transaction time (50 trades)
Good news earnings Bad news earnings
Timing of trade
relative to DJNS
announcement
-50 t o-41
-40 to -31
-30 t o-21
-20 t o-11
- l Ot o- 1
Total pre-
announcement
+ 1 to +10
+ 11 to+20
+21 to +30
+31 to+40
+41 to +50
Total post-
announcement
Long
positions
892
1026
1095
1285
1517
5815
1453
1459
1290
1124
1051
6377
Short
positions
675
717
904
986
1272
4554
1461
1092
1024
980
937
5494
Percent
long
56.9
58.9
54.8
56.6
54.4
56.1
49.9
57.2
55.7
53.4
52.9
53.7
Long
positions
111
947
1069
1136
1414
5343
1548
1313
1184
1117
952
6114
Short
positions
693
768
921
1096
1460
4938
1375
1095
942
805
817
5034
Percent
long
52.9
55.2
53.7
50.9
49.2
52.0
53.0
54.5
55.7
58.1
53.8
54.8
Difference
{i stat)
+2.23
+2.16
+0.67
+3.83
+3.88
+5.92
-2.36
+ 1.89
+0.03
-2.99
-0.52
-1.69
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 173
TABLE 4 cont'd.
Panel B: Results in clock time (two-hour trading intervals)
Good news earnings Bad news earnings
Clock time
relative to
announcement
< -8 hours
-8 to -6 hours
-6 to -4 hours
-4 to -2 hours
-2 hrs to -1 min.
Total pre-
announcement
0 min. to +2 hours
+2 to +4 hours
+4 to +6 hours
+6 to +8 hours
> +8 hours
Total post-
announcement
Long
positions
188
372
619
1107
3529
5815
3798
1054
556
459
510
6377
Short
positions
228
330
576
782
2638
4554
2917
969
572
481
555
5494
Percent
long
45.2
53.0
5L8
58.6
57.2
56.1
56.6
52.1
49.3
48.8
47.9
53.7
Long
positions
283
294
682
938
3146
5343
3634
951
599
472
458
6114
Short
positions
224
288
617
896
2913
4938
2744
914
544
348
484
5034
Percent
long
55.8
50.5
52.5
51.1
51.9
52.0
56.9
51.0
52.4
57.6
48.6
54.8
Difference
{z stat)
-3.18
+0.84
-0.32
+4.55
+5.89
5.92
-0.46
+0.67
-1.43
-3.64
-0.27
-1.69
* This table reports the frequency and proportion of long and short positions taken in the option
market immediately before and after good and bad news earnings releases. Long positions are
buyer-initiated calls or seller-initiated puts; short positions are seller-initiated calls or buyer-
initiated puts. Good (bad) news events are those in which the actual equity market return from
the announcement time to the end of Day +2 is positive (negative). The times of the announce-
ments are obtained from the Dow Jones News Service (DJNS). All transactions classifiable as
buys or sells are included provided they are executed within two trading days of the
announcement time. Panel A reports results in transaction time (for 50 trades immediately
around the release time), and Panel B reports results in clock time (in 2-hour trading inter-
vals). The z statistics are based on a chi-squared test of the null hypothesis that the long and
short positions taken are uncorrelated with sign returns associated with the announcement.
In Table 4, we present an analysis of directional volume for good and bad
news announcements, as classified by the actual two-day price change. When
announcements are partitioned on the basis of the actual price change, we find
a greater difference between good and bad news samples. Once again, a greater
proportion of long positions are taken before good news, than before bad news.
Before good news announcements. Panel A shows that 56.1 percent of the
option trades represent long positions in the underlying stock. However, before
bad news announcements, only 52.0 percent of the option trades represent long
positions. The z statistic for this difference is 5.92. Using the postannounce-
ment proportions as benchmarks. Table 4 shows an increase in long positions
before good news as well as an increase in short positions before bad news.
Panel B shows that although the shift is most pronounced in the four hours
174 Contemporary Accounting Research
immediately prior to the DJNS news release, we find once again evidence that
the direction of option trades anticipate the subsequent price move.
Although Table 4 results suggest that active-side option trades anticipate
the nature of earnings news, these results may be limited by two design issues.
First, the chi-squared statistics may be biased upwards if option trades are pos-
itively and serially correlated, that is, long (short) positions tend to follow long
(short) positions. Second, active-side trades may anticipate future price moves
even when no earnings news is announced, tf option prices are sensitive to
order imbalances, then the Table 4 results may not be related to earnings infor-
mation. We address these issues in the next section through the use of a pseu-
do-announcement methodology.
Trading profits
tn addition to examining the direction of option trades, we also examine their
profitability. The main purpose of these tests is to evaluate the extent to which
option traders participate in price discovery, tf option traders bring private
information to market, then the direction of active-side option trades will antic-
ipate subsequent price movements. This movement will yield short-run profits
to active-side option trades, that is, when option traders initiate buys (sells),
prices are more likely to move up (down). Conversely, if option trades bring no
new information to market, then buys and sells in the option market arrive ran-
domly and active-side option trading will not be profitable.
To compute trading profits, we assume the active-side of each trade and
assess the profits under three different trading strategies, tn the first strategy,
we compute the "midspread return" (MsRet), that is, we assess the information
content of buys and sells by assuming that positions can be taken at the aver-
age of the bid and ask price (midspread price) at the time of the trade. Thus, we
compute returns using the midspread price at the time of the trade and the mid-
spread price at the end of Day +2 for that particular contract, tn effect, we com-
pute the profit that the trade initiator would realize without paying the spread.
If traders are uninformed about upcoming price changes, then the expected
return computed from midspreads should be close to zero. Conversely, if trade
initiators are informed about future price changes, this strategy should yield a
positive return.
In the second strategy, we initiate the position at the actual trade price and
unwind at the bid (ask) price at the end of Day +2 for buys (sells). This strate-
gy mimics the trading profit of an option trader who closes his or her position
at the end of Day +2 at the quoted price. In effect, it represents the trading prof-
it after costs due to bid-ask spreads. We refer to this return as the "realizable
retum" (ReRet). However, because trades often occur inside the quoted spread,
our measure understates the actual trading profit from this strategy.
In the third strategy, we assume the long or short position by trading in the
underlying stock. Each option trade is accompanied by the corresponding stock
price based on the last trade in the equity market. We assume a long (short)
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Earnings News Dissetnination 175
position in the stock for purchases (sales) of calls, and a short (long) position
in the stock for purchases (sales) of puts. We then unwind the position at the
closing stock price at the end of Day +2 to compute the "equity return" (EqRet).
This trading rule mimics the returns an option trader would receive in the equi-
ty market. Because the last equity trade could be either a buy or a sell, the equi-
ty return does not include the cost of the bid-ask spread. Thus, EqRet is com-
parable to MsRet in the option market. However, consistently positive EqRets
would suggest the information in incoming option trades is not yet reflected in
the equity market.
In our analysis of trading profits, 3,228 trades (around seven percent)
involve contracts that expire on or before Day +2. These trades do not have
closing quotes two days after the announcement, so we substitute the value of
the contract at expiration for the closing quote price. Specifically, we compute
trading profits for these trades using the following option value at expiration:
Call Options: Max [S - X, 0]
Put Options: Max [X - S, 0]
where X is the strike price of the contract and S is the stock price based on the
last trade on Day +2. Using this approach, we attribute the expiration value to
the contract at the end of Day +2.
TABLE 5
The profitability of option trades around earnings announcements*
Panel A: Results in transaction time (50 trades)
Timing of
trade relative
to DJNS
event time
-50 to -41
-40 t o- 31
-30 t o-21
-20 t o- 11
- l Ot o- 1
+1 to +10
+11 to+20
+21 to +30
+31 to+40
+41 to +50
Midspread
returns
No. of
observations MsRet
(%)
3244
3697
4266
4775
6008
6291
5304
4758
4324
4010
2.82
5.88
4.39
5.22
3.84
3.00
3.78
2.42
0.18
2.47
rstat
3.14
6.01
4.64
5.77
5.51
4.11
5.17
3.06
0.22
3.03
Realizable
returns
ReRet
(%)
-9.41
-7.68
-10.08
-9.66
-11.33
-13.56
-11.55
-12.40
-14.24
-11.25
tstat
-10.5
-8.2
-11.2
-n.2
-16.3
-19.5
-16.4
-16.7
-16.5
-14.3
Equity
returns
EqRet
(%)
0.158
0.216
0.132
0.154
0.134
0.101
0.222
0.092
-0.135
0.076
f stat
2.55
3.79
1.95
3.14
3.01
2.66
5.02
2.12
-2.30
1.15
176 Contemporary Accoutiting Research
TABLE 5 cont'd.
Panel B: Results in clock time (2-hour trading intervals)
Midspread
returns
Clock time
relative to No. of
announ- observations MsRet
cement (%)
< -8 hours
-8 to -6 hours
-6 to -4 hours
-4 to -2 hours
-2 hrs to -1 min.
0 min. to +2 hours
+2 to +4 hours
+4 to +6 hours
+6 to +8 hours
> +8 hours
979
1364
2677
4015
12955
13936
4198
2408
1965
2181
1.70
2.51
4.11
5.28
4.50
2.60
2.68
4.02
0.77
1.86
tstat
1.02
1.76
4.00
6.03
8.53
5.14
3.43
3.80
0.76
1.90
Realizable
returns
ReRet
(%)
-18.01
-14.62
-11.84
-10.39
-8.33
-11.15
-13.62
-12.76
-16.52
-15.72
tstat
-11.31
-11.08
-12.01
-11.73
-16.45
-22.66
-17.97
-12.68
-16.68
-18.07
Equity
returns
EqRet
(%)
0.087
0.122
0.195
0.250
0.129
0.141
0.035
0.109
-0.085
-0.118
f stat
0.88
1.40
3.13
3.70
4.11
5.01
0.83
1.14
-1.64
-1.20
* This table reports the average returns obtained from taking the active side of option trades
immediately before and after the release of earnings news. Results using three different trad-
ing rules are reported. MsRet is the average midspread return per trade, assuming trades are
made at the middle of the bid-ask spread. For option buys (or sells), a long (or short) contract
position is established at the middle of the prevailing spread at the time of the actual trade and
unwound at the closing midspread price on Day +2. The average realizable return (ReRet)
incorporates the bid-ask spread, so that buys (sells) are established at the actual trade price
and unwound at the closing bid (ask) price on Day +2. The average equity return (EqRet) is
computed using the stock price in the equity market at the time of the option trade. For each
option trade, a corresponding long (or short) position is taken in the equity market using the
last equity trade price and unwound at the last equity trade price on Day +2. All returns are
expressed in percent. The times of the announcements are obtained from the Dow Jones News
Service (DJNS). All transactions classifiable as buys or sells are included, provided they are
executed within two trading days of the announcement time. Panel A reports results in trans-
action time (50 trades), and Panel B reports results in clock time (2-hour trading intervals).
The t statistics are based on a test of the null hypothesis that the average return is not signif-
icantly different from zero.
Table 5 reports the results of the three trading-rule tests for the 50 option
trades immediately before and after the earnings announcement. Panel A
reports the results in transaction time, and panel B groups the trades in clock
time. In both panels, the MsRet results are consistently positive and significant,
indicating that option traders are informed about short-term future price
changes. Specifically, the magnitude of MsRet suggests that, ignoring transac-
tion costs, option traders gain around three to six percent on their contracts in
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 177
the days around the earnings release. In contrast, the ReRet results show that
although initiators of option trades may anticipate the price move, high bid-ask
spreads in the option market make such trades unprofitable.
Tbe ReRet result suggests tbat active-side option traders do not make
abnormal profits. However, it does not imply that traders are irrational for
choosing to trade options. To assess whether these traders behave rationally
(i.e., optimally), we need more information about costs and benefits for com-
parable trades in the stock market. Moreover, we note that approximately one-
third of the option trades have positive ReRets. For these traders, the option
strategy proved profitable even after bid-ask spreads.
The EqRet results show that, ignoring bid-ask spreads, trades executed in
the equity market also yield positive returns. The t statistics on EqRets are
lower than for MsRet, but still statistically significant. This result shows tbat
the information brought to market by active-side traders was not yet impound-
ed in tbe stock price at the time of the option trade. Table 5 sbows that EqRets
are mucb smaller than MsRets. The average EqRet for preannouncement option
trades is only around 16 basis points, compared to 400 to 500 basis points for
MsRet. This difference reflects the greater leverage available in the option mar-
ket, as well as the greater risk borne by option traders.
As mentioned previously, MsRet results may not be attributable solely to
the release of earnings news. Prior studies (e.g., Hasbrouck 1988; Lee and
Ready 1991; and Petersen and Umlauf 1991) have shown that the active-side
of each trade foreshadows subsequent price moves, that is, buyer (seller) initi-
ated trades tend to be followed by increases (decreases) in stock prices. This
pattern reflects the adverse selection problem faced by market makers. Because
market makers are relatively uninformed, they infer the arrival of information
from incoming active-side orders. Specifically, tbey respond to buyer-initiated
trades by moving the price up and to seller-initiated trades by moving the price
down. If option traders bring private information to market, a positive MsRet
results even when no earnings news is released.
To compare the profitability of active-side trades in event and nonevent
peri ods, we generat e a sample of "pseudo-announcement s. " For each
announcement in our sample, we create a pseudo-announcement by retaining
the same time of day and randomly drawing a date distribution of nonan-
nouncement dates for the same firm. For each pseudo-announcement, we also
draw the nearest 50 trades immediately before and after the announcement time
(provided these trades take place after the opening of trading on Day - 2 and
before the close of trading on Day +2). We then replicate the three trading prof-
it tests using this random sample of pseudo-announcements.
Table 6 reports tbe results for our pseudo-announcements. This table shows
that MsRet is positive for all 10 trade groups, significantly so in six groups.
Consistent with prior findings in equity trading, the direction of active-side
option trades also forecasts future price changes. However, the information
advantage of the active option trades is higher immediately before the earnings
178 Contemporary Accounting Research
news release. Table 6 shows that the average MsRet during nonannouncement
periods is approximately two percent. In comparison, the midspread-to-mid-
spread return on option trades during announcement periods (MsRet in Table 5)
is over four or five percent, approximately twice as large. The higher prof-
itability of active-side trades around the earnings release date is consistent with
option traders establishing positions with foreknowledge of earnings news.
TABLE 6
The profitability of option trades around randomly selected pseudo-announcement
dates*
Timing of
trade relative
to DJNS
event time
-50 to ^1
-40 to-31
-30 to-21
-20 to -11
-lOto-1
+1 to+10
+11 to+20
+21 to+30
+31 to +40
+41 to +50
No. of
Midspread
returns
observations MsRet
2970
3312
3892
4833
5973
6163
5084
4381
3888
3457
(%)
0.591
1.665
0.346
2.416
2.998
0.236
0.193
2.447
1.928
L564
f stat
0.76
2.11
0.47
2.73
4.36
0.44
0.35
4.03
2.99
2.13
Realizable
returns
ReRet
(%)
-n.49
-11.14
-12.73
-12.23
-12.45
-16.18
-14.90
-12.15
-12.15
-11.87
tstat
-15.1
-14.8
-17.7
-15.5
-18.8
-29.8
-26.8
-20.6
-19.2
-16.9
Equity
returns
EqRet
(%)
-0.118
0.039
-0.027
-0.016
-0.005
-0.065
-0.116
0.029
0.260
-0.406
<stat
-1.65
0.77
-0.53
-0.41
-0.14
-1.84
-3.48
0.82
1.17
-1.62
This table reports the average returns obtained from taking the active side of the 50 option
trades immediately before and after pseudo-announcements. For each actual announcement,
a pseudo-announcement is created using the same firm and time of day. but a randomly select-
ed nonannouncement date. Results using three different trading rules are reported. MsRet is
the average midspread return per trade, assuming trades are made at the middle of the bid-ask
spread. For option buys (or sells), a long (or short) contract position is established at the mid-
dle of the prevailing spread at the time of the actual trade and unwound at the closing mid-
spread price on Day +2. The average realizable return {ReRet) incorporates the bid-ask
spread, so that buys (sells) are established at the actual trade price and unwound at the clos-
ing bid (ask) price on Day +2. The average equity return {EqRet) is computed using the stock
price in the equity market at the time of the option trade. For each option trade, a corre-
sponding long (or short) position is taken in the equity market using the last equity trade price
and unwound at the last equity trade price on Day +2. The times of the actual announcements
are obtained from the Dow Jones News Service (DJNS). All transactions classifiable as buys
or sells are included, provided they are executed within two trading days of the pseudo-
announcement time. The t statistics are based on a test of the null hypothesis that the average
return is not significantly different from zero.
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 179
TABLE 7
Abnormal profitability of option trades around earnings releases after controlling for
matched-sample pseudo-announcements*
Timing of
trade relative
to DJNS
event time
-50 to -41
-40 to-31
-30 to-21
-20 to-11
-l Ot o-1
+ 1 to+10
+11 to+20
+21 to +30
+31 to +40
+41 to+50
No. of
Midspread
returns
observations MsRet
1589
2626
3442
4156
5484
5734
4568
4047
3134
2030
(%)
1.76
2.73
2.74
2.45
1.51
3.04
3.85
-0.43
-1.30
-0.29
tstat
1.11
1.86
1.94
1.85
1.56
3.41
3.76
-0.38
-1.00
-0.23
Realizable
returns
ReRet
(%)
1.79
2.47
2.13
2.06
1.85
3.11
3.55
-0.73
-1.54
-0.46
tstat
1.14
1.76
1.59
1.71
1.96
3.46
3.59
-0.69
-1.20
-0.36
Equity
returns
EqRet
(%)
0.220
0.198
0.112
0.112
0.121
0.239
0.269
0.214
-0.11
0.109
<stat
1.57
2.11
1.47
1.65
1.95
4.34
1.85
0.81
-1.65
0.87
* This table reports the average abnormal returns obtained from taking the active side of the 50
option trades immediately around earnings releases. For each announcement, a pseudo-
announcement is created using the same firm and time of day, but a random nonannounce-
ment date. Each trade is matched with a corresponding trade from the pseudo-announcement.
Abnormal return is defined as the actual return per trade, minus the return on the matching
trade, averaged across all paired trades. Three different trading rules are used. MsRet is the
average midspread return, assuming trades are made at the middle of the bid-ask spread. For
option buys (or sells), a long (or short) contract position is established at the middle of the
prevailing spread at the time of the trade and unwound at the closing midspread price on Day
+2. The average realizable return (ReRet) incorporates the bid-ask spread, so that buys (sells)
are established at the actual trade price and unwound at the closing bid (ask) price on Day +2.
The average equity return (EqRet) is computed using the stock price in the equity market at
the time of the option trade. For each option trade, a corresponding long (or short) position is
taken in the equity market using the last equity trade price and unwound at the last equity
trade price on Day +2. All transactions classifiable as buys or sells are included provided they
are executed within two trading days of the announcement time. The / statistics are based on
a test of the null hypothesis that the average return is not significantly different from zero.
To evaluate the incremental trading profit accruing to active-side option
trades around earnings news, we subtract the returns on pseudo-announcement
trades from the returns on trades around actual earnings announcements. Table
7 reports the average abnormal trading profit of option trades after controlling
for corresponding trades from pseudo-announcements. The midspread returns
in this table show that even after controlling for the information advantage of
active-side trading in nonannouncement periods, option traders make abnormal
profits immediately around earnings news releases. For Trades -30 to -1-20,
active option trades earn abnormal profits of two to four percent.
180 Contemporary Accounting Research
Interestingly, the results for the realizable returns (ReRet) are also statisti-
cally significant and similar in magnitude. Because the difference between
these two columns is due solely to changes in the quoted spread during event
periods, these results imply that quoted spreads increase only marginally dur-
ing the announcement period. The equity return (EqRet) shows that the infor-
mation advantage in option trades can also be detected using equity trade
prices. During the preannouncement period, EqRet is marginally higher than
normal. However, the strongest information effect comes from the 10 trades
immediately after the announcement. These trades realize an average return of
0.24 percent (t statistic=4.34) over two days.
Bid-ask spreads and absolute deltas
As a final test, we compare the composition of contracts traded in announce-
ment periods to those in matching pseudo-announcements. Specifically, we
focus on changes in the bid-ask spreads and absolute deltas for contracts trad-
ed during the announcement. As discussed previously, bid-ask spreads should
increase if information asymmetry risk (the risk of trading with an informed
trader) increases around earnings releases. The average absolute delta should
also increase for announcement trades if informed traders prefer option con-
tracts that provide greater leverage.
Table 8 reports summary statistics on the effective spread and absolute
deltas for all announcement trades and their matching pseudo-announcement
trades. The two variables in this table are as follows;
Sprd = effective spread = 2 I TradePrice - Midspreadl, and
I A I = absolute delta - I dC/dS I.
In these definitions, the effective spread for each contract (Sprd) is two
times the absolute difference between the trade price and the midpoint of the
quoted bid and ask prices at the time of the trade (Midspread), expressed in dol-
lars. The absolute delta for each contract (I A I) measures the sensitivity of the
contract price (C) to changes in the stock price (5). The option valuation pro-
cedures followed to compute each contract's delta and implied volatility are
described in Appendix 2.
Table 8 shows that, during nonannouncement periods, the average effective
spread is .158 or 15.80 per transaction. During the announcement period, the
average effective spread increases to 16.3(i per transaction. This increase is due
primarily to the widening of spreads in the postannouncement period, to 16.60
per transaction. The five percent increase in postannouncement spreads is
somewhat lower than the 18 percent increase in effective spread for equity mar-
kets reported in Lee et al. (1993, Table 5). This increase in effective spreads is
consistent with greater information asymmetry risk around earnings releases.
However, in economic terms, the effect is not large.
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Earnings News Dissemination 181
TABLE 8
Effective hid-ask spreads and contract deltas during earnings announcements*
Panel A: Effective bid-ask
No. of trades
Mean
Median
t statistic
Pseudo-
spreads (Sprd)
announcement Announcement period
trades
58041
0.158
0.130
Aggregate
60656
0.163
0.130
7.05
Preannouncement
28564
0.159
0.130
0.55
trades
Postannouncement
32092
0.166
0.130
11.08
Panel B: Absolute contract deltas (Delta)
Pseudo-
announcement
trades
Announcement period trades
No. of
observations
Mean
Median
t statistic
58041
0.518
0.485
Aggregate
60656
0.515
0.476
-2.80
Preannouncement
28564
0.513
0.469
-4.34
Postannouncement
32092
0.517
0.483
-0.67
* This table reports the average effective spread (Sprd) and the average absolute contract delta
(.Delta) for option contracts traded immediately around earnings announcements and match-
ing pseudo-announcements. A pseudo-announcement has the same firm and time of day as an
actual announcement, but is based on a randomly selected nonannouncement date. A trade is
included in the table if it is among the 50 trades executed immediately before or after each
announcement (or pseudo-announcement), provided it is also within two trading days of the
DJNS announcement (or pseudo-announcement) time. Effective spread (Sprd) for each trade
is defined as two times the absolute difference between the trade price and the midpoint of
the quoted ask and bid prices at the time of the trade, expressed in dollars per share. The con-
tract delta (Delta), defined as 3C/3S, measures the sensitivity of each contract's price to its
stock price. Because calls have positive deltas and puts have negative deltas. Panel B reports
the average absolute delta. The / statistics are based on a test of the null hypothesis that the
mean Sprd or Delta for announcement trades is not significantly different from the mean for
pseudo-announcements.
Panel B of Table 8 shows that the average absolute delta of traded contracts
is lower for announcement periods. The main difference is in the preannounce-
ment period, when average deltas drop from .518 to .513. To put this change
into economic perspective, the average "elasticity" of announcement period
trades is 14.7, compared to 15.0 for pseudo-announcement trades.^^ In other
words, a one percent change in stock price results in an average change of 14.7
percent in the price of contracts traded during earnings announcements. By
comparison, a one percent change in stock price results in an average change
182 Contemporary Accounting Research
of 15 percent in the price of contracts traded during nonannouncement periods.
The small 0.3 percent decrease in elasticity suggests that option traders do not
forego much leverage by choosing lower delta (i.e., lower elasticity) contracts
during earnings announcements. As discussed previously, informed traders may
be concerned with revealing their intentions and adversely affecting prices. In
addition, contracts with higher absolute deltas have wider effective spreads.^''
The results in Table 8 suggest that these costs outweigh the potential benefits
of trading in higher leverage contracts.
Conclusion
This study investigates the abnormal trading volume in option markets around
the announcement of earnings news. For firms with listed options, we find that
a significant portion of the overall reaction in trading volume takes place in the
option market. As with equity trading, this abnormal reaction is most pro-
nounced on Day 0 relative to the DJNS report. During this date, call option vol-
ume is 35 percent and put option volume is 55 percent higher than normal. As
in the equity market, this abnormal option activity persists for several days.
However, after controlling for contemporaneous trading in the equity market,
abnormal option volume is observed only in the three to four days before the
quarterly earnings announcement.
We also investigate the extent to which option traders incorporate private
information into prices. Earlier studies suggest that informed traders may pre-
fer the cost structure in option markets. Consistent with this hypothesis, we
find that the buy/sell activities of option trades foreshadow subsequent earn-
ings news. Moreover, we document positive midquote returns to active-side
option trades, suggesting that initiators of option trades bring private informa-
tion to market. After controlling for transaction costs, we show that the prof-
itability of active-side option trading increases during earnings announcements.
This increase implies that at least some of the private information brought to
market is earnings-related.
We observe a small increase in the effective bid-ask spread for options
traded around the earnings announcement. However, we find no evidence that
traders during the event period prefer higher-leverage contracts. In fact, the
average absolute delta of announcement trades is slightly lower than for pseu-
do-announcement trades. We suggest wider bid-ask spreads and strategic con-
cerns (related to the premature revelation of their intentions) may deter
informed traders from using the more highly leveraged contracts.
Collectively, our findings suggest a role for option trading in the dissemi-
nation of earnings news. Prior studies with equity market data imply that the
availability of option markets enhances the price efficiency of the stock market
with respect to earnings news. We provide direct evidence that this enhance-
ment is attributable to the private information option traders bring to market. In
particular, our findings suggest some option traders have price-relevant infor-
mation about upcoming earnings announcements.
Option Trading, Pdce Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 183
Our findings also contribute to the literature on the intermarket linkage
between stocks and options. Recent evidence on the speed of information trans-
fer between option and equity markets has been mixed (e.g., Stephan and
Whaley 1990 and Chan et al. 1993). These studies employ Granger-Sims
causality tests, without conditioning on an exogenous information signal. In
contrast, we isolate abnormal trading activities that relate to a known informa-
tion signal and show faster and more informed trading in the option market.
Our evidence suggests that option market trades lead the equity market, at least
during periods of earnings news dissemination.
These findings imply an economic role for the option market as a cost-effi-
cient mechanism for price discovery. As suggested by Grossman (1988),
options are not merely redundant securities that can be substituted by dynamic
trading strategies in stocks and bonds. Rather, our results on the speed and
direction of option trades support the view that some informed traders are led
first to the option market. In this sense, the option market offers a low-cost
means for impounding new information into prices.
Appendix 1
List of 141 sample firms
02224910
01447610
02635110
28176010
02687410
02680410
02390510
03189710
03190510
03251110
04882510
05430310
02581610
09702310
06605010
07181310
11704310
09738310
09179710
07785310
05873210
07159310
11009710
AA
AAL
AGC
AGE
AIG
AIT
AMH
AMP
AN
APC
ARC
AVP
AXP
BA
BAC
BAX
BC
BCC
BDK
BEL
BLY
BMG
BMY
ALUMINUM CO AMERICA
ALEXANDER ALEXANDER SER
AMER GEN CORP
A.G.EDWARDS INC
AMERIINTL GROUP INC
AMERIINEORMATION TECH CO
AMDAHL CORP
AMP INC
AMOCO CORP
ANADARKO PETROLEUM CORP
ATLANTIC RICHFIELD CO
AVON PRODUCTS INC
AMERICAN EXPRESS COMPANY
BOEING CO
BANKAMERICA CORPORATION
BAXTER INTERNATIONAL INC
BRUNSWICK CORP
BOISE CASCADE CORP
BLACK DECKER CORP
BELL ATLANTIC
BALLY MFG CORP
BATTLE MOUNTAIN GOLD CO CLA
BRISTOL MYERS CO
184 Contemporary Accounting Research
12189710
08750910
07390210
17119610
20491210
12484510
13985910
19121910
17303410
17052010
21236310
19044110
15852510
12550910
19416210
20536310
24736110
25365110
26353410
25384910
25468710
26054310
26188510
29284510
27746110
27805810
34537010
31330910
31818110
34386110
31945510
34583810
35671410
36935210
36955010
36960410
21932710
37044210
39109010
36476010
BNI
BS
BSC
C
CA
CBS
CCB
CCE
CCI
CCN
CDA
CGP
CHA
CI
CL
CSC
DAL
DBD
DD
DEC
DIS
DOW
DRY
EC
EK
ETN
F
FDX
FFC
FLR
ENB
FRX
FTX
GCN
GD
GE
GLW
BURLINGTON NORTHERN INC
BETHLEHEM STEEL CORP
BEAR STEARNS COMPANIES INC
CHRYSLER CORP
COMPUTER ASSOC INTL INC
CBS INC
CAPITAL CITIES /ABC INC
COCA-COLA ENTERPRISES INC
CITICORP
CHRIS-CRAFT INDUSTRIES INC
CONTROL DATA CORP
COASTAL CORP
CHAMPION INTERNATIONAL CORP
CIGNA CORP
COLGATE-PALMOLIVE CO
COMPUTER SCIENCES CORP
DELTA AIR LINES INC DEL
DIEBOLD INC
DU PONT DE NEMOURS E I CO
DIGITAL EQUIPMENT CORP
DISNEY WALT COMPANY
DOW CHEMICAL CO
DREYFUS CORP
ENGELHARD CORP
EASTMAN KODAK CO
EATON CORP
FORD MOTOR CO
FEDERAL EXPRESS CORP
FIREMANS FUND CORP
FLUOR CORP
FIRST CHICAGO CORP
FOREST LABS INC
FREEPORT MCMORAN INC
GENERAL CINEMA CORP
GENERAL DYNAMICS CORP
GENERAL ELECTRIC CO
CORNING GLASS WORKS
GM GENERAL MOTORS CORP
GNN
GPS
GREAT NORTH NEKOOSA CORP
THE GAP INC
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Earnings News Dissemination 185
40018110
39144210
36868210
40621610
43739D10
43507110
43761410
42307410
43850610
41387510
44485910
42823610
32054810
45920010
45950610
45988410
46014610
45067910
47816010
48258410
49238610
19121610
50545810
53802110
54385910
53271610
54042410
84474110
57777810
58013510
58505510
58283410
59018810
60405910
60705910
58933110
61166210
62886210
66680710
65584410
GQ
GWF
GY
HAL
HFD
HIA
HM
HNZ
HON
HRS
HUM
HWP
I
IBM
IFF
IGL
IP
ITT
JNJ
KM
KMG
KO
LAC
LIT
LOR
LTD
LTR
LUV
MA
MCD
MDT
MEA
MER
MMM
MOB
MRK
MTC
NCR
NOC
NSC
GRUMMAN CORP
GREAT WESTERN FINANCIAL CO
GENCORP INC
HALLIBURTON CO
HOMEFED CORP
HOLIDAY CORP
HOMESTAKE MINING CO
HEINZ H.J CO
HONEYWELL INC
HARRIS CORP
HUMANA INC
HEWLETT-PACKARD CO
FIRST INTERSTATE BANCORP
INTL BUSINESS MACHINES CORP
INTL FLAVORS FRAGRANCES
INTL MINERALS CHEM CORP
INTERNATIONAL PAPER CO
ITT CORP
JOHNSON AND JOHNSON
K MART CORP
KERR-MCGEE CORP
COCA-COLA CO
LAC MINERALS LTD
LITTON INDUSTRIES INC
LORAL CORP
THE LIMITED INC
LOEWS CORP
SOUTHWEST AIRLINES CO
MAY DEPARTMENT STORES CO
MCDONALDS CORP
MEDTRONIC INC
MEAD CORP
MERRILL LYNCH CO INC
MINNESOTA MNG MFG CO
MOBIL CORPORATION
MERCK CO INC
MONSANTO CO
NCR CORP
NORTHROP CORP
NORFOLK SOUTHERN CORP
186 Contemporary Accounting Research
63764010
66581510
67634610
67459910
71344810
69642930
73109510
69562910
70990310
75127710
77434710
75511110
81238710
82270360
82434810
83083010
80685710
87161610
03017710
87538210
87933510
87913110
89233510
89604710
88250810
90553010
90921410
91530210
90291110
91301710
93443610
97463710
96332010
96945710
93114210
96216610
30229010
98412110
NSM
NT
OG
OXY
PEP
PLL
PRD
PWJ
PZL
RAL
ROK
RTN
S
SC
SHW
SKY
SLB
SYN
T
TAN
TDY
TEK
TOY
TRB
TXN
UCC
UIS
UPJ
UST
UTX
WCI
WGO
WHR
WMB
WMT
WY
XON
XRX
NATIONAL SEMICONDUCTOR CORP
NORTHERN TELECOM LTD
OGDEN CORP
OCCIDENTAL PETROLEUM CORP
PEPSICO INC
PALL CORP
POLAROID CORP
PAINE WEBBER GROUP INC
PENNZOIL CO
RALSTON PURINA CO
ROCKWELL INTL CORP 1 PAR
RAYTHEON CO
SEARS ROEBUCK CO
SHELL TRANS TDG PUB LTD DS
SHERWIN-WILLIAMS CO
SKYLINE CORP
SCHLUMBERGER LTD
SYNTEX CORPORATION
AMERICAN TEL TEL CO
TANDY CORP
TELEDYNE INC
TEKTRONIX INC
TOYS R US INC
TRIBUNE COMPANY
TEXAS INSTRUMENTS
UNION CAMP CORPORATION
UNISYS CORP
UPJOHN COMPANY
UST INC
UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORP
WARNER COMMUNICATIONS INC
WINNEBAGO INDS INC
WHIRLPOOL CORPORATION
WILLIAMS COMPANIES
WAL-MART STORES INC
WEYERHAEUSER COMPANY
EXXON CORP
XEROX CORPORATION
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination
187
Appendix 2
Option vatuation assumptions and procedures
To compute an option's sensitivity to the underlying stock price (dC/dS, or
delta), we use an option valuation procedure based on a binomial approxima-
tion to the Black-Scholes model modified for dividends and early exercise. The
implied volatility from this model is computed using a procedure similar to that
in Harvey and Whaley (1992). The implied volatility is then used as input in
the model to numerically compute each contract's delta. Dividend data (adjust-
ed for stock distributions) is obtained from the CRSP database. Interest rates
are computed daily from the average of Treasury Bill bid and ask quotes sup-
plied by DRI. On each date, the entire term structure of forward interest rates
is computed by linearly interpolating between available Treasury Bill maturities.
Option valuation
On each trading day, we decompose the stock price into the present value of the
dividends during the remaining life of the option and the remaining capital-
gains portion of the stock, that is:
where 5 is the stock price on date n, Gn is the capital-gains portion of the
stock price at date n, PV[Di ] is the present value of the dollar dividend paid
on the stock on date t, and T is the option maturity date. Df is nonzero only for
exdividend days.
We assume that Gn follows a log-normal diffusion with a constant volatil-
ity per unit time. Using the Black-Scholes risk-neutral argument, the rate of
return on G (and on the stock price) equals the riskless interest rate. The den-
sity of the diffusion process governing G is approximated by a discrete bino-
mial model with the number of periods equal to the smallest integer multiple of
the number of days to maturity, such that, the number of periods is at least 200.
The stock price at each node in the binomial tree is set equal to the value of G/j
at that node plus the present value of the dividends during the remaining life of
the option.
Option values are computed by backward induction, checking for early
exercise at each node. For example, if Cn is the value of an American call
option in time period n with strike price K, its value is given by the following
recursive relationship:
Cn =Max[(S^-K), E J
where is the conditional expectation on date n with respect to the risk-neu-
tral probabilities, rn^n+1 is the forward interest rate from date n to date n+1, and
h is the size of the time step in the binomial model. Given the call value at the
188 Contemporary Accounting Research
maturity date as a function of the stock price, this equation can be solved recur-
sively to compute the call value at date 0. A put option can be valued similarly.
Implied volatility
For each trading day, an implied volatility measure is computed separately for
each option series (a series consists of all calls or puts with the same exercise
price and maturity date). On the date of the actual earnings announcement, the
implied volatility is computed separately for the intraday period before the
earnings announcement and for the period after the announcement. Thus, any
changes in the volatility induced by the announcement is reflected in the
postannouncement pricing. The implied volatility of a contract is computed by
minimizing the following function:
.
where j is the number of option trades in the sample, Cj is the market price of
caliy, Sj is the contemporaneous stock price, and Cj(Sj,a) is the model price of
call j as a function of the stock price Sj and volatility s. Note that because the
trades may have occurred at different times during the day, the stock price for
each trade may be different . Given the implied volatility for each option, we
then numerically compute each option's delta using the binomial model.
Endnotes
1 For example, see Skinner (1990), Ho (1993), Jennings and Starks (1986), Botosan
and Skinner (1993). Also related are general studies of the effect of derivative
products on stock price behavior (e.g., Figlewski and Webb 1993; Damodaran and
Subrahmanyam 1992; and Skinner 1989); and studies of the intermarket linkage
between options and equities (e.g., Stephan and Whaley 1990; Chan et al. 1993).
2 Using prior release dates, Kross and Schroeder (1984) show that over 80 percent
of earnings announcements are within three days of the date predicted. Our
discussions with market participants and specialists suggest traders often have
even more precise information about the timing of releases.
3 We define long and short positions relative to the underlying security. For
example, the purchase of a call and the sale of a put are both deemed long
positions. We use a technique similar to Lee and Ready (1991) and Harris (1989)
to identify the active-side of each tradethat is, whether it is buyer or seller
initiated.
4 Note that the evidence shows some private information is incorporated first in the
option market. Our result is tangential to, and does not directly address, the issue
of whether option markets, on average, lead equity markets (i.e., the focus in
earlier studies by Battacharya 1987; Anthony 1988b; Stephan and Whaley 1990;
Chan et al. 1993).
5 Hasbrouek (1988), Lee and Ready (1991), and Petersen and Umlauf (1991)
document this empirical phenomenon for equity markets. See Glosten and
Milgrom (1985) and Easley and O'Hara (1987) for examples of formal models in
which this effect arises.
Option Trading, Price Discovery, and Eamings News Dissemination 189
6 The short-term option market returns we report are not to be confused with
realizable risk-adjusted returns such as in Whaley and Cheung (1982). The
purpose of our tests is to detect directional shifts in the incoming flow of market
orders. They are not designed to provide an estimate of economic risk-corrected
returns.
7 The delta of an option (defined as d C/<?S, whereC is the contract price andS is
the stock price) measures the sensitivity of the contract price to changes in the
price of the underlying stock. Calls have positiv&deltas, whereas puts have
negative deltas.
8 The typical information asymmetry model (e.g., Copeland and Galai 1983 and
Glosten and Milgrom 1985) assumes two types of traders: "informed" traders and
"liquidity" traders. Informed traders trade because they have private information
not currently reflected in prices, whereas liquidity traders trade for reasons other
than superior information. Market makers sustain losses from trading with
informed traders, and they recover these losses through the bid/ask spread. These
models predict that greater information asymmetry between informed and
liquidity traders will lead to wider spreads. In these models, information
asymmetry risk can increase with an increase in either the proportion of informed
traders or the precision of their information.
9 We define transaction costs broadly to include interest lost on margin accounts or
short-sell proceeds, etc.
10 In a related study, Vijh (1990) observes that noise traders who mistakenly believe
they have price-relevant information might also prefer the option market.
11 An option trader may initiate one of four transactions: open a purchase contract,
open a sale contract, close a purchase contract, and close a sale contract. In the
first two instances, the trader buys an option he does not already hold as a writer,
thus increasing open interest. In the latter two instances, he cancels his position
as a writer of some options, thereby reducing open interest. Consequently,
increased trading in options could either increase or lower open interest,
depending on whether contracts are being opened or closed.
12 Note that evidence of an earlier volume reaction in the option market does not
imply option markets generally lead equity markets. As discussed in the
following, option markets may be used to hedge expected increases in volatility
associated with earnings news releases. This anticipative "volatility play" may
result in an earlier volume reaction in the option market.
13 Note that even investors who hold hedged positions in options and the underlying
stock are subject to increased risk during earnings announcements. This risk
arises from the nonlinear relation between the stock price and the option price
that, during a large price move, will expose the holder to risk.
14 In some low-volume contracts, the market maker is a designated specialist.
However, even in these markets, the quotes are firm and tradable for at least 100
contracts.
15 These comparisons may be somewhat misleading, as option returns are more
sensitive to the same news event than stock returns. Dividing each contract's
effective spread by its absolute delta and stock price, we find relative spreads for
options average around 0.8 percent of the stock price. This percentage is still
larger than the average effective spread in equity markets (approximately 0.6
percent of stock price for our sample firms).
16 Relative spreads may differ across the two markets due to factors other than
information asymmetry risk. The market microstructure literature identifies three
components to the bid-ask spread, of which information asymmetry risk is only
one [see Stoll (1989) for a good summary]. The other two factors are inventory
190 Contemporary Accounting Research
costs and order processing or administrative costs. However, most market makers
in options close the day "even," bearing little inventory risk. Moreover, the
capital requirements and initiation fees for market making in options are
generally much lower than those needed to become a specialist in equity trading.
Therefore, these two factors are unlikely explanations for wider options spreads.
17 Using intraday data. Lee et al. (1993) show that, in equity markets, spreads widen
and depths drop immediately before earnings news. Using daily closing quotes,
Anthony (1987) finds no evidence of this phenomenon in the option market. As
pointed out by Lee et al. (1993) in an equity context, the failure to detect this
effect may be due to the coarseness of daily data. Later, we examine the effect of
earnings announcements on the size of the bid-ask spread in the option market.
18 Besides trade and quote information on calls and puts, the CBOE data also report
trading in straddles and spreads. A spread is a simultaneous long and short
position in two or more contracts that differ in either their strike price (a money
spread) or expiration date (a time spread). A straddle is a simultaneous long or
short position in a put and a call with the same expiration date and strike price.
Because the trading in spreads and straddles is minimal, these trades are
excluded.
19 The four sample firms with some option activity on the AMEX are as follows:
DEC, Disney, Dupont, and Tandy.
20 The results using number of contracts traded are qualitatively the same.
21 We do not distinguish between different option contracts at this point. However,
in later tests, we do report on differences in the elasticity and bid-ask spreads of
contracts traded during announcement periods and pseudo-announcement periods.
22 In general, more contracts are bought than are sold because some purchased
contracts expire, whereas others are exercised early. Vijh (1988) shows that a
greater proportion of option trades are executed at the ask price than at the bid
price. Because call volume is much higher than put volume, our results on long
and short positions are consistent with his findings.
23 The elasticity of a contract is its ahsolute delta multiplied by its stock price and
divided by its contract price. It measures the percentage change in each contract's
price for a one percentage change in its stock price.
24 Dividing our sample trades into quintiles ranked by absolute delta, we find a
positive and monotonic relation between spreads and leverage: average effective
spread for the top quintile (contracts with the highest absolute delta) is 0.21, as
compared to 0.11 for the bottom quintile (contracts with the lowest absolute
delta).
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