Ways to Trade Goldman as Firm Battles Fraud Charges

Tuesday, 20 April 2010 02:37 PM

The stocks and bonds of investment bank Goldman Sachs, which reported strong quarterly earnings on Tuesday, have steadily fallen in price since U.S. regulators charged the bank with fraud last week, leaving many investors looking for new ways to trade the bank's securities.

The possibility that the charges are the beginning of more widespread banking regulation, or may be followed by lawsuits by investors burned by complex mortgage investments, as well as the potential loss of Goldman clients, are all factors making it unlikely the bank's debt or shares will return to recent highs in the near-term.

Despite the strong results, Goldman's shares were trading more than 1 percent lower at $161.43 in late trading.

Goldman said net income nearly doubled in the first quarter to $3.29 billion, bolstered by big gains in trading and debt and equity underwriting. The earnings of $5.59 a share beat analysts' average forecast $4.01 per share, according to Thomson Reuters.

Longer-term, the company's stock price will be vulnerable if a regulatory clampdown on risk taking and the use of derivatives erodes what has been among the bank's most profitable businesses.

The following are some investment strategies aimed at profiting from rising, falling or stabilizing Goldman risk as the SEC case develops.

— Short-Term Risks Unchanged

Victor Schiller, president of InvestorsObserver.com, an equity options research and analysis firm in Charlottesville, Va., notes that the SEC's case will probably proceed slowly, which makes the likelihood of big gains or losses in Goldman Sachs shares in coming weeks unlikely.

On the one hand, he suggests an options strategy that will pay off for investors if the stock stays below $180.51 by mid-May, the next options expiration date.

He suggests a "bear-call credit spread" that would involve selling a May call at the $180 strike price and buying a call at the $185 strike price to limit the risk.

In such a strategy the investor would pocket a premium of 51 cents and would therefore return a bit more than 11 percent over the next 33 days before May expiration. The trade would only start to lose money if the stock rises to $180.51, or about 12 percent, by May expiration.

"Even if the SEC says it was all a mistake, 'sorry,' traders will still be afraid of this stock for a while," he said.

Then there's the other side. Schiller thinks it's hard to imagine the stock falling much further, either, and for those inclined to take such a risk, they could sell the May $130 put option and buy the May $125 put option. The stock would have to fall another 13 percent (below $130) to start losing money.

— Short-Term Risks Grow

Matt McCall, president of the Penn Financial Group in Denver and Editor of The ETF Bulletin, notes that there are potential plays on the periphery of Goldman Sachs in the world of exchange-traded funds.

If he were to pair ETFs, he recommended a long play in the iShares Dow Jones U.S. Regional Banks exchange-traded fund and a short in the Select Sector SDPRs Financials ETF, which is more heavily weighted in the larger banks. If regional banks outperform while larger financials struggle, an investor makes money on both sides of the trade.

One ETF that has seen a big jump in volume is the Proshares UltraShort Financials, which aims for twice the inverse result of the daily performance of the Dow Jones U.S. Financials Index. On a one-day basis, it makes sense that this would be the ETF of choice, McCall said.

But since the leveraged ETFs tend to track daily performance, compounding can actually hurt the investment over the long term. In a volatile market, the SKF can do even worse even if the underlying shares lose ground.

— Longer-Term Risks Unchanged

Michael Schwartz, chief options strategist at Oppenheimer & Co. in New York, said that since his firm expects the stock to do no better or worse than the S&P 500 he would tell investors to over-write, meaning to sell options against all or part of their long position as a partial hedge, selecting a strike price that is above the current market level.

Goldman's stock closed at $163.32 on Monday, and the October $170 call options were selling for $10.65. This is means that you have $10.65 or 7.7 percent protection on the downside — the option you sell offsets the slight decline in shares. The trade also works well on the upside for a while. If the stock goes up to $170, you will benefit for that appreciation, but nothing more over $170.

— Longer-Term Risks Grow

Even though Goldman Sachs stock trades for under 1.4 times year-end 2009 book value of $117 a share and for just nine times projected 2010 profits of $18 a share, hedge funds and money managers are still betting that Goldman equity will fall further longer-term.

One hedge fund manager said a popular trade was to short Goldman shares as well as their corporate bonds while buying Goldman credit protection via credit default swaps, as a hedge.

Financial and bank shares have been on a tear, with the S&P financials index up 165 percent between March 2009 lows and before the news about Goldman on April 15, 2010, and now hedge funds and money managers see the Goldman fraud charges as a reason to short the whole sector.

© 2019 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.

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The stocks and bonds of investment bank Goldman Sachs, which reported strong quarterly earnings on Tuesday, have steadily fallen in price since U.S. regulators charged the bank with fraud last week, leaving many investors looking for new ways to trade the bank's...
Tuesday, 20 April 2010 02:37 PM
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