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In the news is quite a bit of noise surrounding ultra-short-dated options with little time to expiry. To quote Nomura Holdings Inc’s (NYSE: NMR) Charlie McElligott, the trading of these options is adding noise; “US equities are such an untradable mess right now.”
However, your letter writer, who mainly trades complex spreads on the cash-settled indexes, thinks there has never been a better time to trade. Ultra-short-dated options enable you to express your opinion in more efficient ways. Additionally, the trade of these options, in the aggregate, can influence market movements, and this is added opportunity if you understand it.
Darrin Johnson, a volatility trader, recently discussed sharp ways to use these options.
Heading into some big events this week, John noted S&P 500 (INDEX: SPX) implied volatility (IVOL) was trading at ~25% on a five-day straddle. Traders could buy this structure while, in the interim, selling other structures like it “against CPI, Retail Sales, and PPI” where IVOL was higher. This would enable you to lower the cost of having positive exposure to movement or positive gamma via the five-day straddle, though this is operating on the premise “that Friday’s volatility will hold mostly steady, while the other 3 deflate.”
Moreover, the ultra-short-dated options are palatable if we will, and other traders, potentially much bigger in size, are observant of this too. The growing interest in these products (e.g., in the second half of last year, ultra-short-dated options made up more than 40% of the S&P 500’s trading volume) is growing in impact on underlying products like the SPX.
In fact, JPMorgan Chase & Co’s (NYSE: JPM) Peng Cheng found these options have an impact that “can vary from a drag of as much as 0.6% to a boost of up to 1.1%.”
To explain, though as of late options counterparties may be playing a smaller role as “customers have taken equal and opposite sides” of positions, per SqueezeMetrics, we can naively look at there being a pool of liquidity to absorb the demand for these ultra-short-dated options which are very sensitive to time, price, and volatility. These increased sensitivities are hedged in a way that impacts this available pool of liquidity. If the trade or impact is large enough, it is transmitted onto underlying market prices.
For instance, consider so-called meme mania and stocks like GameStop Corporation (NYSE: GME) that rocketed as traders’ interest in short-dated options demands rose. To hedge increased demand in call options, for instance, counterparties must buy the underlying stock. This demand boosts the stock.
Likewise, if traders’ consensus is that markets won’t move much until some large macroeconomic events, then their bets against market movement (i.e., sell ultra-short-dated options) will result in counterparties having more exposure to bets on market movement (i.e., positive gamma) which they will hedge in a way that reduces market movement (i.e., buy weakness or sell strength in the underlying stock). So, if traders bet against the movement, resulting in more counterparty positive gamma, then market movement is reduced due to the reaction to this positioning.
On the other hand, if traders’ consensus is that markets may move a lot, particularly to the downside, their bets on market movement (e.g., buy ultra-short-dated put) will result in counterparties having more exposure to bets against market movement (i.e., negative gamma). This demand for protection will bid options prices, particularly at the front-end of the IVOL term structure as counterparties price this demand in, and the counterparty will sell underlying to hedge. If fears are assuaged and traders no longer demand these bets on market movements, the counterparty can unwind their hedge which, in the put buying example provided, may provide a market boost, such as that which we saw immediately following the release of consumer price updates (CPI) this week; to quote Bloomberg, “[w]hen the worst didn’t happen, these hedges were unwound, helping propel a recovery in futures. It’s partly why the Cboe Volatility Index, or VIX, dropped 7% in a seemingly outsize reaction in a market when the S&P 500 ended the session basically flat.”
Additionally, the re-hedging-inspired recovery was short-lived as well; the impact of ultra-short-dated options, as this letter has stated before, is short-dated. It, too, does much less to influence measures like the Cboe Volatility Index (INDEX: VIX), a floating measure of ~30 day-to-expiry SPX options trading at a fixed-strike IVOL, though it does have an impact. Thus, the dis-interest to hedge stocks traders do not own (or hedge further stocks that may be hedged) out in time, does less to boost the VIX.
Anyways, in January, your letter writer interviewed The Ambrus Group’s co-CIO Kris Sidial about major risks to markets in 2023, as well as reasons why volatility could outperform in 2023 and beyond. Some of the information in that Benzinga interview made it into this newsletter in the days following its release.
Basically, the SPX and VIX complexes are growing and, on the other side, are a small concentrated group of market makers taking on far more exposure to risk.
During moments of stress, as we’ve seen in the past with GME for example, options counterparties may be unable to keep up with the demands of investors, so you get a reflexive dynamic that helps push the stock higher. “That same dynamic can happen on the way down”; counterparties will mark up options prices during intense selling. As the options prices rise, options deltas (i.e., their exposure to direction) rise and this prompts so-called bearish vanna counterparty hedging flows in the underlying.
“Imagine a scenario where [some disaster happens] and everybody starts buying 0 DTE puts. That’s going to reflexively drive the S&P lower,” Sidial said. “Take, for example, the JPMorgan collar position that clearly has an effect on the market, and people are starting to understand that effect. That’s just one fund. Imagine the whole derivative ecosystem” leaning one way.
Well, that’s what JPM’s Marko Kolanovic just said is a major risk and could exacerbate market volatility. “While history doesn’t repeat, it often rhymes,” he explained, noting that the trade of ultra-short-dated options portends a Volmageddon 2.0. If you recall, in 2018, Volmageddon 1.0 turned successful long-running short-volatility trades on their head when traders who were betting against big movements in the market saw their profits erode in days.
Further, to conclude this section since your letter writer is running short on time, as Sidial said, “if you’re trading volatility, let there be an underlying catalyst for doing so.” From a “risk-to-reward perspective, … it’s a better bet to be on the long volatility side,” given “that there are so many things that … keep popping up” from a macro perspective. Check out our letters from the past weeks where we talked about protecting profits (e.g., sell call vertical to finance and buy a put vertical with a lot of time to expiry).
For Ambrus’ publicly available research, click here. Also, follow Sidial on Twitter, here. Consider reading your letter writer’s past two conversations with Sidial, as well. Here is an article on 2021 and the meme stock debacle. Here is another article talking more about Ambrus’ processes.
As of 6:15 AM ET, Thursday’s regular session (9:30 AM – 4:00 PM ET), in the S&P 500, is likely to open in the lower part of a balanced overnight inventory, inside of the prior day’s range, suggesting a limited potential for immediate directional opportunity.
The S&P 500 pivot for today is $4,153.25.
Key levels to the upside include $4,168.75, $4,189.00, and $4,206.25.
Key levels to the downside include $4,136.25, $4,122.75, and $4,104.25.
Disclaimer: Click here to load the updated key levels via the web-based TradingView platform. New links are produced daily. Quoted levels likely hold barring an exogenous development.
Volume Areas: Markets will build on areas of high-volume (HVNodes). Should the market trend for a period of time, this will be identified by a low-volume area (LVNodes). The LVNodes denote directional conviction and ought to offer support on any test.
If participants auction and find acceptance in an area of a prior LVNode, then future discovery ought to be volatile and quick as participants look to the nearest HVNodes for more favorable entry or exit.
POCs: Areas where two-sided trade was most prevalent in a prior day session. Participants will respond to future tests of value as they offer favorable entry and exit.
The author, Renato Leonard Capelj, works in finance and journalism.
Capelj spends the bulk of his time at Physik Invest, an entity through which he invests and publishes free daily analyses to thousands of subscribers. The analyses offer him and his subscribers a way to stay on the right side of the market. Separately, Capelj is an options analyst at SpotGamma and an accredited journalist.
Capelj’s past works include conversations with investor Kevin O’Leary, ARK Invest’s Catherine Wood, FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried, Lithuania’s Minister of Economy and Innovation Aušrinė Armonaitė, former Cisco chairman and CEO John Chambers, and persons at the Clinton Global Initiative.
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Do not construe this newsletter as advice. All content is for informational purposes.