As the market heads indecisively toward something -- maybe 10K, maybe not -- one portion of index trading is turning into a skirmish between traders playing for a two-day move.
The action in the March
options, a contract known as the OEX, is showing the signs of a battle between bulls and bears who plan to spend about two-days turning their beliefs into cash. On Friday, index options, equity options and index futures expire, an often tumultuous event called a triple-witch.
Right now, though, the expiration focus has an additional driver in the form of
10,000. "There's a battle at the 650 strike. It goes a little above and then slips a little back, but that seems to be the key level right now," says Bernie Schaeffer, of the eponymous options advisory firm. With the OEX down 5.8 to 649.9 halfway through today's action, most of the contract's volume has come at that level.
The call buying in the March 650 calls produced total volume of more than 6,200 contracts, but the price slipped 3 3/8 ($337.50) to 5 1/2 ($550). Put volume at the same level reached almost 8,000 contracts as the premium on the contract rose 2 ($200) to 5 ($500) at midday.
This kind of action can portend a swift move in either direction. "A break either way and the OEX can move 10 points before you turn around," Schaeffer says. A 10-point move in the OEX accounts for about 130 Dow points.
Someone playing for a spike may be going for the March 655 calls, which traded 5,200 contracts by lunchtime. On the other side of the aisle, the March 645 puts traded 4,000 contracts as buyer pushed the premium up 1 1/2 ($150) to 3 1/4 ($325).
Money manager Rob Sorrentino, whose Florida firm also bears the name of its owner, expects Friday's triple-witch to be a nonevent. Other pros have expressed that sentiment, but OEX open interest has not moved in size to the corresponding April contracts, according to Schaeffer's observation.
The more open interest remaining in March options by Friday, the greater the need to cover those obligations will be, and that could result in some frenetic trading. Yet, Schaeffer says he doesn't expect a big upward move until the
Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index
-- which serves as the fear gauge for the options market -- falls to 26.
"We had five consecutive higher closes on the VIX, and even though they were small, it's above the 10-day moving average," Schaeffer says. That 10-day average is 26, and the VIX was up some today, trading at just over 27 by midday. "I want to see it back at 26," Schaeffer says.