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Market Commentary For The Week Ahead: ‘Follow The Flow’

Key Takeaways:

What Happened: After prices were advertised below balance in the week prior, responsive buyers in the S&P 500 began a rally that found acceptance back inside a larger balance-area, near the $3,800 high-open interest strike.

Thereafter, initiative buyers extended the S&P 500’s rally, breaking the index above its $3,824.25 balance-area high (BAH), before establishing acceptance near the $3,850.00 price extension, an upside target, and auctioning back into range, repairing poor structures left in the wake of discovery.

What Does It Mean: In light of a failed breakdown in the week prior, U.S. stock indexes were best positioned for further downside discovery. However, after what appears to be aggressive buying in response to prices below value, it was clear that was not the case.

This leads to the following question: why did selling stop on January 15? One answer, aside from a positive start to the earnings season and prospects for further stimulus, may be OPEX, the January 15 option expiry. On expiration days, delta and gamma exposures change — depending on how derivatives exposure is removed or rolled — which causes dealers to adjust hedges.

According to SpotGamma, the January 15 expiry “resulted in a ~50% reduction in single stock gamma … [which] creates volatility because, as large options positions expire[], are closed and/or rolled, dealers have large hedges they need to adjust. There is a trove of data to suggest that the bulk of single stock call activity is long calls, and based on that we believe dealers (who are short calls vs long stock) therefore have long stock positions to sell.”

Put more simply, the price action may have been attributable to the sale of long stock that hedged expiring short derivatives exposure above the market (i.e., call side).

Per the SpotGamma S&P 500 dealer hedging graphic for the January 15 expiry below, “The black line was the mark on Thursday evening, with the red line being the forecasted position on Tuesday. This red line being substantially lower than the black suggests that dealers had to reduce delta exposure as a result of expiration. Note there is a larger shift at overhead prices suggesting this was a ‘call heavy’ expiration.”

Graphic 1: SpotGamma S&P 500 dealer hedging graphic for the January 15 options expiry

After the VIX (i.e., CBOE’s Volatility Index) expiry on January 20, alongside the inauguration of President Joe Biden, the prospects for a rally improved as “event premium in IV dries up … [and] put values drop, which allows dealers (who are short puts) to buy back short hedges … [fueling] a quick rally up to the 3850SPX/385SPY level (green arrow).”

Graphic 2: SpotGamma S&P 500 Gamma Levels

Adding, the number of put options sold to open exceeded the number bought to open, per SpotGamma, suggesting increased confidence in higher prices as market participants look to options for income, and not insurance.

Historically, the returns after such developments are mixed — more often the appearance of strong initiative buying surfaces (e.g., August and January 2020) before a liquidation helps correct excess inventory, and bring sense back into the market.

Graphic 3: SpotGamma plots opening option positions.

What To Expect: During Friday’s session in the S&P 500, responsive buying surfaced after a test of the $3,818.25 High-Volume Node (HVNode), above the $3,813.50 ledge (below which is a pocket of low-volume).

In the simplest way, high-volume areas can be thought of as building blocks. A structurally sound market will build on past areas of high-volume. Should the market trend for long periods of time, it will lack sound structure (identified as a low-volume area which denotes directional conviction and ought to offer support on any test).

If participants were to auction and find acceptance into areas of prior low-volume, then future discovery ought to be volatile and quick as participants look to areas of value for favorable entry or exit.

After the S&P 500 found acceptance above the $3,813.50 ledge and $3,824.25 BAH, it encountered responsive selling near the $3,840.75 HVNode, the site of a downtrend line. Since the selling transpired at a visual level, market participants know that technically-driven, short-term traders in control. In other words, institutions (e.g, funds) tend not to transact at exact technical levels.

Given the aforementioned dynamics, participants will come into Monday’s session knowing the following:

  1. The S&P 500’s higher-time frame breakout remains intact, per graphics 7, 8, and 9.
  2. Late last year, JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) strategist Marko Kolanovic suggested equities would rally with the S&P 500 auctioning as high as $4,000 on the basis of low rates, improved fundamentals, buybacks, as well as systematic and hedge fund strategies. Since then, Kolanovic downgraded growth and expressed the limited potential for further upside.
  3. The earnings of heavily weighted index constituents suggests participants discount improved speculative flows and delta (e.g., presence of committed buying or selling as measured by volume delta). Please see graphics 4, 5, and 6.
Graphic 4: Supportive order flow in the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (NYSE: SPY), the largest ETF that tracks the S&P 500, on January 20 trend day.
Graphic 5: Supportive order flow in the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (NYSE: SPY), the largest ETF that tracks the S&P 500, on January 22.
Graphic 6: Speculative derivatives activity for the week ending January 23, 2021.
Graphic 7: Daily candlestick chart of the cash S&P 500 Index

Given the above dynamics, the following frameworks apply for next week’s trade.

In the best case, the S&P 500 takes back Friday’s liquidation and auctions above the $3,840.75 HVNode. Expectations thereafter include continued balance or initiative buying to take out the $3,859.75 overnight all-time high (there is a low probability that overnight all-time highs end the upside discovery process). Thereafter buying continues as high as the $3,884.75 price projection, or double the width of the balance-area, the typical target on a balance-area breakout.

In the worst case, any break that finds increased involvement (i.e., supportive flows and delta) below $3,824.25 BAH, would favor continuation as low as the $3,763.75 BAL.

Graphic 8: Profile overlays on a 15-minute candlestick chart of the Micro E-mini S&P 500 Futures

Conclusions: Despite broad-market indices being in a longer-term uptrend, the odds of substantial upside resolve are low. Participants ought to look for favorable areas to transact, such as those high-volume areas in the S&P 500 featured in graphic 8.

All in all, the risk and reward dynamics, at these price levels, are poor.

Graphic 9: 4-hour profile chart of the Micro E-mini S&P 500 Futures

Levels Of Interest: $3,884.75, $3,859.75, $3,840.75 HVNode, $3,824.25 BAH, $3,763.75 BAL.

Cover photo by Jayant Kulkarni from Pexels.