At noon New York time today the Standard & Poor’s 500 was down 1.92% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average was off 1.63%. The NASDAQ Composite was lower by 2.65%.
Despite solid gains in the August jobs report this morning that matched Wall Street expectations.
But this is what I’d expect if yesterdays’ big sell off was a result of the selling of Call options by traders who were attempting to leverage the top of this rally and who got burnt and decided to bail out when the market began to turn against them.
Today we know a bit more about those Call options and who had bought and sold.
Turns out that not only was there a huge surge in buying of Call options on a bet that the market would climb from already record heights, but that the buying was concentrated in short duration single stock options. Last week traders bought 22 million more Call options than bearish Put options.
And the bulk of this buying was in options on single stocks with less than two weeks to expiration. Volumes of single stock options with less than two weeks to maturity made up 69% of all options volume. That’s near a peak of 75% in July that was a record in Goldman Sachs data going back to 2013. (Single stock options are usually the realm of retail investors who don’t have the deep pockets of institutional players.)
Bloomberg offered up some examples of how this produced massive volatility. A Call option with a strike price of $125 on Apple (APPL) expiring on September 4, plunged 89% on the day when the shares fell by just 8% to $121, according to Bloomberg. A Call option on Tesla (TSLA) with strike price of $500 and a September 4 expiration dropped by 90% as the stock fell only 9% to $47. A Call option on Zoom Video Communications (ZM) with a strike price of $420 and a September 4 expiration became worthless as the shares hit $381.
It takes some time for a market to unwind all these trades and their consequences–which is why stocks fell again this morning.
But it doesn’t take forever since the market is reacting to short term internals rather than to something that has changed in real world fundamentals.