With over $4 trillion invested in Russell index-linked products, this year’s rebalance combined with the “Will they/won’t they” Fed rate increase debate could make for an eventful start to summer.
"I'm not sure if it’s the biggest trade ever, but it's certainly one of them," noted Jamie Tyrrell, a VIX specialist on the CBOE floor, as Bloomberg reports almost $100 million worth of options pegged to the volatility of US equities were traded in a split second at 1216ET today. "Someone is interested in owning a lot of protection," Tyrrell added as just over 1 million contracts were traded, all told, about 54% of the total amount of index options that traded at the CBOE all day Friday. While for every buyer of VIX Calls there is a buyer, the notable push higher in volatility after this trade suggests the trades had characteristics of someone hedging stocks.
Investors are clearly in a bit of a no-man’s land of market narrative, with the dollar weakening and U.S. corporate earnings slipping. Market participants, like all pack animals, appreciate clear direction and leadership – and we don’t have much of either right now. When considering how they will react, we can compare the two competing frameworks for understanding market behavior: the "Random Walk hypothesis" and the "House money effect." The first states that markets move in random patterns, with prior activity having no bearing on future price action. The latter shows that individuals do actually consider prior gains and losses when making economic decisions. Let’s just hope investors hold to their belief that it’s the house’s money at work here, and that they don’t walk randomly out of the market.
Hence, if and when a genuine price for risk reappears, the effect may be greatly magnified as it was in the US housing market a few years back under not dissimilar circumstances. As Karl Popper noted, volatility can be suppressed in a capitalist system, but it must ultimately reappear. Sooner or later, we will face a good deal of fireworks.
What do retail investors do on volatile days like Friday’s jolt lower on the S&P 500? Thanks to one very large online broker’s publicly available order flow, we now know...
"When an HFT that is not a member of an association executes an off-exchange trade, the HFT’s identity is usually not reported to the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, or FINRA, which is the only association currently in existence. This frustrates FINRA’s surveillance efforts as it cannot quickly link trades to the HFTs responsible for them. This is a serious problem because, according to FINRA’s current Chairman, certain market participants disperse their trading activity across multiple markets in an attempt to hide various forms of market abuse, including layering, spoofing, algorithm gaming, and wash sales."
- SEC Commissioner Luis Aguilar.
The current set of dominant market narratives are so well known as to be cliché. Invest where central banks are pumping liquidity, and short the currency of those countries or regions. Look for growth, and pay any valuation multiple that seems half way reasonable in today’s market. Expect any spike in volatility to wilt like cut flowers in the hot sun, and the Fed to care intensely about stock prices. And maybe that will continue to work in this last month of the first quarter… But it always pays to question the foundations of market assumptions...
The S&P 500 has given back all the gains from the US Open yesterday... when the CBOE "broke" and stocks went vertical... it seems it is time for the market to break again...
And sure enough - CBOE just broke again!
In November we exposed the market's ability to levitate magically when exchanges - most notably CBOE - break. Today we get another glimpse of the new paranormal. While the official CBOE site is not exposing it, numerous traders noted that CBOE options data was not being disseminated from around the open to shortly after 1030ET this morning. That 'coincidentally' occurred as NASDAQ ramped almopst unabated to 5000 (as VIX was clubbed from 13.9 to 13.1)...
Euro-denominated emerging market sovereign issuance will soar to its highest levels in 10 years on the back of the European Central Bank's quantitative easing programme, as issuers outside the eurozone seek to take advantage of falling euro yields, according to bank analysts.
- Central Banks With Negative Rates Spur Question of How Low to Go (BBG)
- DHS to keep running: Congress edges toward domestic security funding patch (Reuters)
- Setbacks for Tsipras Stir Discord in Greek Ruling Party (BBG)
- Greece’s Challenge: Appeasing Its Creditors and Its Population (WSJ)
- Buffett, a cheerleader for America, takes his checkbook abroad (Reuters)
- Oil’s Big Swings Are the New Normal: Market has rarely been more volatile (WSJ)
- Ukraine Left Behind as Russian Stock Gains Are Unmatched (BBG)
- Brent rises to $61, set for first monthly gain since July (Reuters)
and more news moving the markets
- Greek Risk Draws Global Concern on Lehman Echo Warnings (BBG)
- Merkel to urge caution in U.S. as pressure builds to arm Ukraine forces (Reuters)
- West Races to Defuse Ukraine Crisis (WSJ)
- German-French Push Yields Ukraine Summit Plan With Putin (BBG)
- Swiss Leaks lifts the veil on a secretive banking system (ICIJ)
- Italy Lenders Seen Cleansing Books Amid Bad-Bank Plans (BBG)
- G-20 Finance Chiefs Face Tough Test in Istanbul (WSJ)
- Demand for OPEC Crude Will Rise This Year, Says Group (WSJ)... or rather prays
- U.S. Banks Say Soaring Dollar Puts Them at Disadvantage (WSJ)
It has been a quiet overnight session, following yesterday's epic short-squeeze driven - the biggest since 2011 - breakout in the S&P500 back to green for the year, with European trading particularly subdued as the final session of the week awaits US nonfarm payroll data, expected at 230K, Goldman cutting its estimate from 250K to 210K three days ago, and with January NFPs having a particular tendency to disappoint Wall Street estimates on 9 of the past 10. Furthermore, none of those prior 10 occasions had a massive oil-patch CapEx crunch and mass termination event: something which even the BLS will have to notice eventually. But more than the NFP number of the meaningless unemployment rate (as some 93 million Americans languish outside of the labor force), everyone will be watching the average hourly earnings, which last month tumbled -0.2% and are expected to rebound 0.3% in January.
- Oil Drops Below $45; U.S. Stockpiles May Speed Collapse (BBG)
- Pound Drops as Traders Write Off Higher Rates on Inflation Slump (BBG)
- Oil prices down again as UAE defends holding production (Reuters)
- The Politics Behind the ECB's Threat to Cut Greece Funding (BBG)
- France dispatched thousands of police and military personnel to protect synagogues and Jewish schools, as the government warned of continued terror threats after three days of deadly violence (WSJ)
- Chinese Car Dealers Find Days of ‘Printing Money’ Ending (BBG)
- Gold Rises to Highest Since October as U.S. Rate Outlook Weighed (BBG)
- Divers retrieve crashed AirAsia jet's cockpit voice recorder (Reuters)