What Triggered Last Week’s Record-Breaking Options Surge

The prospects of a return to normalcy drove the unprecedented volume

Editor-in-Chief
Nov 20, 2020 at 11:23 AM
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Most weeks, I like to dig into specific stocks, sectors, or an exchange traded funds (ETFs), and the effects the current market climate is having on one of the aforementioned subjects at hand. However, to mix things up, this week we will be taking a look at the unprecedented surge in options volume via the OCC. If you are unfamiliar with the entity, OCC stands for Options Clearing Corporation. The company is a U.S. clearing house, which provides stability and financial integrity on Wall Street by implementing risk management principles.

What specifically caught my attention was earlier this week, per the OCC, on Monday, Nov. 9, an all-time high for equity-only options volume was hit, with 45,541,047 contracts. Even further, equity-call volume also set a record that same day, while equity-put did not. In fact, put volume came in 22nd place, which could be considered quite a dichotomy. For reference, it’s most recent record came on June 5 of this year.

Even further, while volume statistics skew toward calls, Monday also set a new record for overall options volume, with 48,229,252 contracts traded. The most recent record for overall options volume hadn’t been set since late February.

Meanwhile, per a pull of Monday’s option flow recap via Trade Alert, market-wide option volume came in at 47.7 million contracts, and held 64% above recent average levels, with calls leading puts by a 17 to 10 margin. For a more narrow look, the most active stock on Monday was Apple (AAPL) with a call options volume of 1.24 million and a 581,00 count of put options. The most active ETF was the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (SPY), where an even more notable 2.53 million call contracts and 3.40 million put contracts were traded.

So what does this record-breaking day options volume mean? While the answer is far from cut-and-dry, what’s certain is the prospects of a return to normalcy drove the Monday surge. Sure, the uptick in coronavirus cases around the world and in the U.S. put a significant damper on it all later in the week, but Monday’s volume surge was unique for two reasons. It was the first trading day after the Presidential race was called in favor of former Vice President Joe Biden. And on top of that, the world got the first dose (no pun intended) of a positive vaccine news from Pfizer (PFE) and BioNTech (BNTX). That news more than anything represented a light at the end of the tunnel.

Monday was a double whammy of sentiment that lacked historical precedent. In the remainder of the week, stocks have rapidly cooled off, reversing much of its Monday outperformance. Thus, it’s important to remind traders of the rarity of days like Monday, and that an abundance of caution is always recommended when trading in the current market climate. In the meantime, what can be expected is the continued rise in volatile trading activity as the U.S. heads for potentially the worst few months of COVID-19 it has ever seen.

Historically, option volume extremes have exemplified capitulation by market participants. The depths of market troughs are riddled with heavy sell volume and rapid reversals where positions are adjusted algorithmically. It is very noteworthy that this time around, volume spikes are aligning with seemingly good news. Whether it be free commissions, coronavirus antidotes, presidential election outcomes, stimulus/infrastructure promises, Global Central Bank support or a fear-of-missing-out.

OCCCotWChart

Subscribers to Bernie Schaeffer's Chart of the Week received this commentary on Sunday, November 15.

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