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Pessimism Rising - Options Markets Signal Bears Beating Bulls

Amid the tightest range in stock market history, bearish sentiment toward stocks is rapidly worsening according to the options market. As Bloomberg reports, based on the number of puts trading compared with calls on single stocks, pessimism is higher now than any time since 2012 as "upside speculation has really fallen off a cliff." Contrarians may be rejoicing but without a QE-backing and central bank omnipotence in question, as one strategist noted, "perhaps these traders fear a greater correction coming down the pike."

 

 

With about half of the S&P 500’s members trading at least 10% below their 52-week highs, investor skepticism is growing, as Bloomberg reports,

About 0.75 bearish options have changed hands for every bullish one on average in the last 10 trading days, according to a CBOE index tracking daily volume through Aug. 18. The ratio reached 0.76 last week, its highest reading since June 2012.

 

Equity trading this month has been dominated by signs that China’s economic slowdown is deepening, which culminated in a surprise devaluation of the yuan last week. In addition, investors are anticipating the Fed will move toward higher rates this year, with futures markets predicting a 36 percent chance that will happen at next month’s meeting.

 

While the broader stock market has held up, hovering 2.4 percent from a record high, signs of trader anxiety are seeping in.

 

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Traders are spending the most on puts since October, according to Sundial Capital Research Inc.’s Jason Goepfert. Then, the S&P 500 plunged 9.8 percent, spurring a rush for protection as the broader market came the closest to entering correction territory since 2011.

 

“In the past two years, the only time we’ve seen more put buying among these traders was mid-October,” Goepfert wrote in an August 17 note. “Perhaps these traders fear a greater correction coming down the pike.”

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Is consensus the new contrarian? Or has the options market become 'different' this time?