(Bloomberg) -- A sizable bet that equity market volatility would worsen appears to have turned a tidy profit in less than a day.
About $13 million was spent last night on 65,000 December call contracts tied to the Cboe Volatility Index, with a strike price at 26. Similar volume erupted in the series this morning as the VIX jumped above 27, sending the options to as high as $3.55 after trading as low as $1.75 in the prior session.
The timing “seemed pretty good,” said Danny Kirsch, head of options at Cornerstone Macro LLC, adding that transaction was likely a play on volatility increasing. The investor “made some money and monetized the trade.”
Stocks have been under pressure since Friday, when fears surfaced that a new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa could spark fresh outbreaks and scuttle a fragile economic recovery.
The S&P 500 retreated Tuesday for a second day in three after Moderna Inc.’s Chief Executive Officer Stephane Bancel told the Financial Times that existing vaccines are likely to be less effective at tackling omicron. Equity losses then deepened after Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell said it’s appropriate to consider finishing the central bank’s tapering of asset purchases a few months earlier than previously expected, with inflation proving more persistent than forecast.
The trader may have gotten out of the position fretting that Powell would send a dovish signal to spark an equity rally and a drop in VIX, according to Chris Murphy, co-head of derivatives strategy at Susquehanna International Group.
“This was a pretty aggressive, good sized VIX trade,” he said. “It was likely a ‘VIX came in too hard on Monday and I think it’s gonna bounce’ short-term trade.”
Of course, as with almost everything in the post-pandemic world, it’s hard to predict central bank policy. And heading into December, the market faces a couple events that have the potential to spur turmoil, including a deadline for Congress to raise the federal debt ceiling by the middle of the month, and the Dec. 15 Fed policy meeting.
“There are obviously a wealth of issues the market is digesting, from the debt ceiling and tapering to coronavirus -- and this type of trade would profit if markets react negatively to any of those items,” said Brent Kochuba, founder of analytic service SpotGamma. “What’s most interesting is that the trade was fairly short dated, at a strike near-the-money which suggests that it’s more of a bet that the VIX will go higher as opposed to a hedging trade.”
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.