As government numbers highlighting slowing consumer spending hit the Street this morning, options desks were considering a mixed bag of ideas focusing more on playing the market's volatility than chasing takeover rumors and other traditionally lucrative strategies.
And with a weak retail number in circulation, futures had legged up just after 8:30 a.m. EST, giving market pros some respite from the gloom and doom of Monday when the
lost 436 points and the
Nasdaq Composite Index
"Clients don't want to hear about M&A. They don't want to hear about buy-writes, they just need to be consoled," says Lillian Seidman, half of
options trading team. "They want to wait until this passes." They are also, Seidman said, waiting for signs that there's some optimism in the market.
Keith Keenan, vice president of institutional trading at
Wall Street Access
, said the market is "so deeply oversold" it could "get a bounce." He said that while stocks could rebound a bit, "I don't think we're going to go 15%, 20% off the lows."
Another New York options trader at a bulge bracket securities firm said his shop's block trading desk had "orders to buy" yesterday in some "odd names" that hadn't been in investors' sights for a while. They only got pieces of those orders done, but the trader said he thought some opportunity existed in today's market and was getting similar feedback from his clients.
With the futures kicking up as the trader spoke, some of that opportunity seemed more plausible, at least in the short term.
Some opportunity Seidman's clients have found is in
put options, which appreciate as a stock price falls, on names such as
. Unusually active put options Friday foreshadowed GE's 9.6% slip to $39.60 Monday.
Seidman said the firm had seen unusual put activity Monday on
When's a buy signal coming? Larry McMillan of
wrote in a note to clients this morning, "we are going to need a couple of more days of negative breadth, at a minimum. But it's not on the horizon right now."
He added that the market could "have another short, sharp rally just to trap more bulls, but our indicators are still all on sell signals; nothing has rolled over to a buy signal yet."
Seidman said that rising implied volatility levels -- the market's measure of uncertainty about a stock -- on put options, especially, now has "some real meaning behind it. In the past, it had meant to sell
options. Now it's a buy."