Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Almost D-Day, and TTWO is Jumpy

Today's session featured some strange exchanging of TTWO shares, just one day before the company is set to release earnings.

There was no news released (though Barron's later said that the price decline was due to rumors about ERTS walking way from merger talks), though ERTS had an executive speak at a conference right around noon.

Below is a graph of TTWO's trades between about 11:15 and 12:05, when shares declined sharply, rebounded sharply, and then settled roughly 5% lower than where they opened.

Note: Right-click and open this picture in a new tab or window. Damned blogger margins!

As the stock crossed $24 about 8 minutes into the graph, the first pickup in volume can be seen, possibly by stop-limit orders being triggered. The price continued to slide on light volume until shares broke through $23, when volume accelerated to over 50,000 shares per minute.

As the shares dropped below $22, volume topped 150,000 shares per minute, which is impressive, considering only 500,000 shares traded during all of Friday and only 1.3 million exchanged hands yesterday.

Frantic selling and buying took place over the following ten minutes, as about 1.3 million shares were traded. It seems as though stop-limit orders first were triggered, panic selling insued, and finally, as the stock sat at $22, buyers came in to snap up shares.

Normally I wouldn't analyse the intraday trading of a stock so deeply, but the trading pattern certainly seemed odd. TTWO consolidated at $25 during the previous week, with Thursday's trading featuring a $.15 range.

If there was a news leak, or some sort of manipulation, I'd expect to see it in the options, as premiums are still low enough that a trader with information could make a killing. However, volume and pricing on the options seemed normal. The options with the greatest volume were the $25 and $27.5 September calls; premiums did decline, but the $25 call, which went from being nearly at-the-money to almost 10% out of it, only lost about 25% of its value, and ended the day with a trade at $1.10. Volume was a little high (relative to open interest) in some deep OTM Sept, Oct, and Dec puts (with trades at the $15 strike), but I can't see the shares falling that low.

So I backed up the truck a little further and bought a few more $27.5 calls at a cheaper price, adding to my unwisely-large position going into tomorrow. (Thankfully recent good trades with FSLR puts, AIG, AEO, and DDM calls have helped to offset any potential losses from TTWO.)

Once again, in my humble, bullish opinion, all signs (besides today's trading) point to good events tomorrow. I don't know why TTWO would have bothered setting up these secret meetings with ERTS if they weren't showing them something good, and I don't know why ERTS wouldn't have walked away already if they were wholly unimpressed. TTWO has historically beaten earnings, and they are still riding the success of GTA IV, with a decent slate of titles that will be released for the holidays this year.

Who knows, maybe TTWO will report a loss, and these talks were about some firesale price at $14/share, and some speculator (or inside-information-haver) will be chuckling as they rake in the bucks. However, TTWO's management has insisted on the strength of TTWO's business, and empiracle evidence doesn't contracdict their statements.

Considering that ERTS lost over $400 million last year while TTWO is expected to book about $140 million in profit this year, barring a disaster, I don't get how TTWO shares would move lower. An independant TTWO (without this takeover hangover) would be trading much higher than it is today, and TTWO should demand a price somewhere in the $30's if they are to be bought.

Prior to the after-the-bell announcement tomorrow, I'd expect that TTWO trades around $22.5 or $25, as those option strikes have been heavily traded. When they report at the close, a beat-and-raise (without any mention of a takeover) should send shares skyward; ultimately, there could be some announcement concerning the deal during the call tomorrow. Though there is the non-disclosure agreement, I can't believe that TTWO will be completely silent about a deal during the call tomorrow.

If I had a reputation, I'd be putting it on the line. Thankfully, if I'm wrong, no one really reads this anyway, and I'm young enough to lose some money. If I'm right, the profits, and vindication, shall be lovely.

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