NYSE volume was 20% above yesterday's and S&P 500 e-mini futures (ES) volume surged to its 2nd highest of the year as the last 30 minutes saw heavy volume and large average trade size very active as it pushed up towards VWAP and oscillated around its 50DMA. ES closed below its 50DMA for the first time since Monday but equities notably underperformed Treasuries (playing catch-up to bond's recent rally). Equities hit their lows at around 1430ET as ES coincided with Monday's closing VWAP (and Apple also tested and stayed around Monday's closing VWAP) and with a spike down and recovery in WTI prices (margin calls?). The major financials saw their best levels pre-open and slid lower all day with very little bounce at the close. While there was plenty of volatility in FX and commodity markets, close-to-close changes were relatively benign in the USD (DXY) and Oil, Copper, and Gold (while Silver modestly outperformed). All the action in FX was between US open and Europe's close but the afternoon saw AUD drifting weaker and CAD lose most of its spike gains from yesterday as JPY also slipped relative to the USD reducing some of the negative carry impact. Just as we had noted, and reiterated this morning and afternoon, equities performed the same hope-driven rally relative to broad risk assets as last week, and before the late day VWAP-seeking surge, almost completed their shift to fair-value. VIX also pulled higher to its credit-equity-implied fair-value before falling back as we rallied into the close. Overall average trade size today in ES, given its very heavy volume, was among the lowest of the year which suggests a lot of algos trying to wriggle their way back to VWAP to release some orders and with equity reverting to Treasury's, credit's, and broad-risk-asset's views of the less-than-stellar world, we suspect there is more selling to come here - albeit with OPEX complications.
"Whocouldanode?" that Apple would do something like pay a de minimus dividend and begin a modest buyback program? Indeed, initial reactions for the stock seemed to be 'sell the news' but of course, it wouldn't be a day ending in 'y' if Apple didn't close green and sure enough, with seconds to spare, Apple managed to close over $600 for the first time. BofA, not so much. After pinging $10 (a healthy double of recent lows), chatter of a secondary began the process of 'normalizing' its recent behavior (the stock is still up 17% post JPM-divi/Stress test news, a whopping 10% better than any of its peers in that 4 day period). The leak in financials dragged on the S&P which limped back lower to close almost perfectly at its VWAP as NYSE trading volumes (after almost record-breaking high levels on Friday OPEX hedge removal day) dropped back to near their lows . Credit outperformed equities today but its a very 'technical' day for credit in general with the CDS/index rolls tomorrow (meaning the major credit indices will move to new maturities and new components) though HYG staggered notably early in the day. USD and Treasury weakness were the headlines of the day (aside from AAPL of course - which apparently has a great new screen) which of course helped commodities rally with high-beta Silver the best on the day +1.2% from Friday and WTI breaking $108 as Gold limped higher (tortoise-like) over $1660 at the end. VIX rose once again and the term structure flattened a little but once again post-OPEX and futures roll, there are some more difficult apples-to-camels comparisons there. Finally we note average trade size in ES today was its largest since 7/1/11.
It seems everyone has positioned for what is to come as today was blah. The volume on the NYSE was decent which is expected given the OPEX but trading in the e-mini S&P futures contract (ES) was dismal - lower even than the 2/6 and 2/13 low levels at what looks like the lowest non-holiday trading day since 2006. A very narrow range day (basically from last night's day session close) with a small pop this morning around the day session open saw the highs of the day but ES tried to inch back up there in the afternoon - as credit (IG, HY, and HYG) went sideways from after the European close. Financial and Discretionary stocks outperformed as XLF made new recent highs (while credit spreads remain near 5 week wides). VIX futures tracked stocks for the most part (with a slight push higher into the close) but implied correlation diverged (bearishly) higher. FX markets were relatively calm with in EURUSD with AUD and JPY (-2.5% on the week) weakness the main drivers of USD strength off European session lows - but USD ended the day practically unch (+0.5% on the week). The USD strength dragged Silver down over 1% on the week and Copper down 3.8% (biggest loser today) while Gold outperformed the USD and ended green on the week above $1720. Oil was the winner up almost 5% on the week - its biggest gain of the year - ending above $103.5 for WTI. Treasuries came back off their high yields of the day after Europe closed with a little more push into the close leaving 30Y unch for the week and the short-end +3-4bps.
Financial credits remain the big underperformer hinting at much less risk appetite than USD-based stocks would indicate for now but broad risk assets staged an impressive bounce recovery on better than average volumes today as early weakness in Europe was shrugged off with better-than-expected macro data in the US (claims and Philly Fed headlines) and then later in the morning the story in the ECB Greek debt swap deal. We discussed both the macro data and the debt swap deal realities but the coincident timing of the ECB story right into the European close (when we have tended to see trends reverse in EUR and risk anyway) helped lift all risky asset boats as USD lost ground. The long-weekend and OPEX tomorrow likely helped exaggerate the trend back today but we note HYG underperformed out of the gate and while credit and stocks did rally together, the afternoon in the US saw stocks limp higher on lagging volumes (and lower trade size) as credit leaked lower. Treasuries sold off reasonably well as risk buyers came back (around 8bps off their low yields of the day pre-ECO) but rallied midly into the close (as credit derisked). Commodities all surged nicely from the macro break point this morning with Copper best on the day but WTI still best on the week. Silver is synced with USD strength still (-0.25% on the week) as Gold is modestly in the money at 1728 (+0.4% on the week) against +0.47% gains for the USD still. FX markets abruptly reversed yesterday's USD gains with most majors getting back to yesterday's highs. GBP outperformed today (at highs of the week) and JPY underperformed (lows of the week). VIX shifts into OPEX are always squirly and today was no different but we did see VIX futures rise into the close. We wonder if the last couple of days of Dow swings and vol spikes and recoveries will remind anyone of the mid-summer day swings last year?
And so we are back to the same fiscal feudalism that Germany demanded, and the Greece refused weeks ago. We have been pondering the ECB bond swap 'news-story' and the market's reaction to this with incredulity. Our earlier discussion of the deal (here and here) pointed to the problems and now Peter Tchir explains how this debt swap is actually a step towards a Greek default (thanks to the removal of the CAC-encumberance within the ECB). It is also a large step towards colonization as the FT notes that the bailout terms will contain "unprecedented controls" on Athens. It is our earlier comments on the unintended consequence of this ECB action - that of explicitly subordinating all other sovereign bondholders in Europe, and that this would likely raise the very large specter of legal action by other Greek bondholders arguing the ECB has received unfair treatment - that the FT also brings to investors' attention (which is seemingly being ignored on the eve of OPEX). Whichever way you look at this - it is not good for Greece and could have significantly negative implications for the rest of the European sovereign bond market just as investors are starting to dip a toe in the cool risk water once again.
We noted last night that heavy and large average trade size was going through after the cash market close in S&P futures and it seemed overnight we needed one more push to flush out some more chasers before today's less than euphoric macro prints (aside from CFNAI's market-centric index) stalled the Fed-induced excitement. Financials had their worst day of the year (worst performing sector 2 days in a row), down just under 1% as did the Tech and Energy sectors as Utilities were best once again. Volumes were up with ES at its 50-day average and NYSE volume second highest of the year as ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) slid 20 points or so from opening highs up near 1330. Equity and credit markets tracked on another closely all day (as did broad risk drivers) with a last-30-minutes ramp (once again on high average trade size) just for good measure taking ES back to Tuesday after-hours swing highs. The late swing up looked like a recovery from being modestly oversold relative to risk assets as TSYs, FX, and commodities all trod water as stocks pulled up 5-6 S&P pts into the close. TSYs all rallied on the day with 2s-10s all at week low yields and 30Y starting to catch up to the excitement at the end of the day (though 2s10s30s remains notably 'low' relative to ES currently). Gold and Silver continued to outperform (up around 3.5% on the week) and Copper held onto its gains while Oil dropped back below $100 after getting above $101 early in the day. The correlation of EURUSD and risk has re-emerged recently and post-Europe's close today, USD strengthened though EUR remained just above 1.31 as we closed.
With quarter-to-date volumes at the NYSE 20% below Q4's average, we wonder just how much bank's earnings will be impacted as today saw the credit derivative index market 'disappear' this afternoon also. IG and HY traded (or at least were quoted) in an extremely narrow range post the European close (as ES also traded in a 2pt range for two hours post Europe before making a slightly bigger move). Stocks (and HYG) outperformed IG/HY today but ES has not been levitating as much as credit post OPEX. EURUSD rallied post the Europe close (as for the 4th day in a row, European equity and credit markets reversed direction pre- and post-US day session and then EUR reversed direction on Europe's close). The EUR-implied USD weakness did nothing to drive risk assets too much though HYG (the high-yield ETF) was active and positive on the day as we see HY credit and stocks as close in 'value' as they have been in almost 8 months. It seems obvious that between AAPL earnings (down today), the SOTU, and a Greek fiasco any moment that most 'traders' are either fully positioned and biting their nails or simply in wait-and-see mode. Copper outperformed on the day as Oil, Gold, and Silver all fell on the day (with Silver in a frenzy last evening). Gold and Silver are lower from Friday now and while TSY yields did drop into the close, they remain3-4bps higher on the week. The modest rally to almost unch in ES into the close was not supported by broad risk assets which were stable to modestly lower after holding high correlations all day.
Amid the lowest NYSE volume of the year (-24% from Friday - OPEX) and pretty much the lowest non-holiday-period volume in 9 years based on Bloomberg's NYSEVOL data, ES (the e-mini S&P 500 futures contract) ended the day almost perfectly unchanged underperforming 5Y investment grade and high-yield credit indices on the day as both moved to contract tights (their best levels since early August last year) even as their curves flattened. There has been lots of chatter about how the steepening of the short-end of the European sovereign bond markets (Italian 2s10s for instance) is a sign that all-is-well in the world again, well unfortunately the flattening of the short-end of US IG and HY credit markets sends a rather less positive signal than headlines might care to admit (as jump risk in the short-term remains 'high' relative to bullish momentum in the medium-term). At the same time, vol markets are showing extreme levels of short-term complacency as 1m VIX is almost at record low levels relative to 3m VIX (and diverging today from implied correlation). Broadly speaking , risk assets rallied into the US day session open only to sell off into the European close (with Sovereigns leaking back the most). The afternoon saw risk rallying as the path of least resistance appears to be up all the time there is no news. Stocks ended well off their highs of the day, in line with broad risk assets, as TSY yields rose 3-4bps higher, Oil and Copper 1.5-1.75% higher (outperformed) while Silver and Gold hugged USD weakness at around a 0.5% gain from Friday's close.
By his own admission in an interview today with Bloomberg TV, Barton Biggs is "elderly and not as sprite as he used to be" but for our purpose he is perfectly placed. As the almost-perfect contrarian call (bullish into August here and bearish in September here for example) notorious flip-flopper Biggs is now both "terrified he is not long enough" and yet "fears that an apocalyptic end to the Euro could occur within the next 3-6 months". According to Bloomberg, Biggs is net-long around 65% equities and noted he is "terrified I'm too long if the apocalypse is coming in Europe." Yet another canary in the seemingly 'ever-more-full-of-canaries' coal-mine (but now perhaps post OPEX and facing IMF/Greece/IIF reality we will see contrarianism at its best).
GroupThink! GroupThink! GroupThink!
The real outlook of Monetary Easing vs Treasury Yields
While much will be made of the spurt in volume today - to its highest of the year - we present without too much comment the comparison to last January's OPEX volume. Today's volume is an incredible 27% below the January 2011 Option expiration volume...
The same theme of the last few days remains in place with vol and CDS being derisked for lower quality names and relatively rerisked for higher quality names. Stocks were a much more mixed bag today with crossover names outperforming the high and low quality names on average. Financials (monolines aside) were the only sector in which equity and credit deteriorated together on average while equity outperformed credit in all the others (aside from Telecoms which saw slightly more spread compression than the equity moves would have assumed).
Will The Lowest Hedging On Record Play Tricks On OpEx Day When Open Interest Is Rumored To Be At All Time Highs?Submitted by Tyler Durden on 12/17/2010 09:03 -0400
As there is very little trading volume in general these days, and far less non-robotic trading volume, today's trading will likely be defined almost exclusively by Wall Street's option trading brigade. As it is option expiration day, we expect a very rigorous attempt to take out all the pins where the open interest is highest. And courtesy of Sentiment Trader, we could be in for a doozy. Based on his Equity Hedging index, we are at an all time low in terms of his just created proprietary Hedging Activity index. Which means that a record number of people are currently unhedged. Couple this with rumors of one of the highest open interests in existence, and it may get ugly soon. As for forecastability of what this means in terms of returns, it's not pretty: "When the EHI dropped below 20, during the next three months the maximum gain in the S&P 500 averaged +2.5% while the maximum decline averaged -5.9%. Each time, any short-term upside progress was erased during a swift corrective period at best." Then again, in a bizarro market entirely dominated by the Fed's telegraphing of its equity purchase decisions, we are fairly confident that the predictive prowess of any existing indicator is largely in doubt at a time when none of the traditional market dynamics are even close to being relevant.
Jesse points out an interesting observation coming from our friends over at Contrary Investor, that MBS purchases by the Fed as reported in H.4.1 tend to cluster around OpEx dates. This can be seen graphically on the attached table. The implication is clear: provide liquidity around the time most needed to "sustain" the market each month. Alas, we are willing to relieve the Fed of any allegations of wrongdoing, at least in this particular instance...