When Nasdaq Whales Get Slaughtered?

Fred Imbert and Katrina Bishop of CNBC report stocks fall in wild session to close out big losing week for tech:

Stocks closed lower for a second day on Friday after a wild session in which names that would benefit from the economy reopening tried to offset another steep decline in tech. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed 159.42 points lower, or 0.6%, at 28,133.31. At one point, the 30-stock average fell as much as 628.05 points, or 2.2%. The Dow was also higher for a moment on Friday. 

The S&P 500 slid 0.8% to 3,426.96, but closed well off its session low. The broader-market index was down 3.1% at its session low and briefly traded positive on the day. The Nasdaq Composite fell 1.3% to 11,313.13, but also closed well above its low of the day. 

Boeing shares rose more than 1% while bank stocks gained broadly. JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup were up 2.2% and 2%, respectively. Bank of America climbed 3.4%. Wells Fargo advanced 1.1%. Cruise operator Carnival climbed 5.4% and United Airlines advanced 2.2%.

“We might finally see some rotations that could lead to new market leadership,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities. “That’s something we’ve been lacking for a long time.”

Shares of major tech companies closed mostly lower. Facebook, Amazon and Alphabet all lost more than 2%. Netflix slid 1.8% and Microsoft dropped 1.4%. However, Apple ended the day up 0.1% after falling as much as 8.3%. Tesla also erased a drop of more than 8%, ended the session up 2.8%.

The S&P 500 tech sector fell more than 1% a day after its worst session since March. For the week, the sector fell more than 4%. Tech’s sell-off came after the space drove the lion’s share of the broader market’s comeback off the coronavirus lows.

“We’ve had excessive valuations in the markets lately — particularly in the tech sector — and that needed to be corrected to some degree,” said Scott Knapp, chief market strategist at CUNA Mutual Group. “One needs to look no further than the recent irrational run-up in Tesla and Apple share prices after both companies announced a stock split to see overexuberance, especially among retail investors.”

Both Tesla and Apple rallied recently after announcing stock splits.

Japan’s SoftBank reportedly bought billions of dollars in individual stock options in big tech companies over the past month, driving up volumes and contributing to a trading frenzy. The heightened options trading activity was credited by many analysts for adding froth to the stock market.

We view the latest sell-off as a bout of profit-taking after a strong run,” said Mark Haefele, CIO at UBS Global Wealth Management. “Stocks are still well-supported by a combination of Fed liquidity, attractive equity risk premiums, and an ongoing recovery as economies reopen from the lockdowns.”

Tech’s decline this week led the S&P 500 and Nasdaq to snap their respective five-week winning streaks. The S&P 500 fell 1.8% this week and the Nasdaq declined by 3.7%. The Dow fell 2.3% this week. 

U.S. unemployment falls

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to 8.4% last month from 10.2% in July, the Labor Department said. Economists polled by Dow Jones expected the rate to decline to 9.8%. As for overall jobs creation, employment in the U.S. grew by 1.37 million in August, topping an estimate of 1.32 million.

“The jobs data today were solid,” said Jamie Cox, managing partner at Harris Financial Group. “However, now the real work begins.”

“The next 2-3% of employment gains are going to be very tough because there is no total reopening in sight. PPP funds are running dry and the impasse in Congress to reauthorize another round for struggling small businesses most affected by the pandemic are recipes for a wave of small business closures,” Cox said.

It's Friday and it was another volatile week in markets led by Thursday's massive tech rout.

Before I get to the stock market, today's US jobs report was encouraging and shows a fairly strong recovery is now underway (same in Canada), but we're far from being out of the woods:

There's no question it will be a sluggish and very uneven recovery:

Wall Street is booming because volatility has picked up in all markets and so have trading revenues on stocks, bonds, commodities and currencies (and derivatives).

Big banks make money off spread: credit cards, mortgages and other loans and buying and selling on behalf of their clients and in their capital markets operations  (roughly 25% of their revenues come from this trading activity).

Anyway, back to the US jobs report, it was encouraging, no doubt, but when you look under the hood, there's still a lot of damage there which is why some fear a K-shaped recovery that favors the wealthy:

It remains to be seen how this recovery unfolds. A lot is riding on one or more effective vaccines so economic activity can really pick up again but we simply aren't there yet.

All I can tell you is there is definitely a significant pickup in US economic activity, which was expected as states reopen their economies, and I remain confident but cautious on the ongoing recovery.

I'm also long US dollars at these levels and think too many US dollar bears have it totally wrong.

Those are my thoughts on the US economy and currency, now let's jump right into the stock market which is why everyone is really reading this comment.

Last Saturday, I posted this article on LinkedIn discussing how the market posted one of the strongest July-August rallies in history as hazard after hazard melts away:

I added this comment:

"The problem is when you see articles like this one, it typically means the melt-up has further to go. Just remember what Keynes use to say, in the short run, the market is a beauty contest and the market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent. Having said this, my fear is when the inevitable pullback occurs, many investors will jump in to buy that dip and the market will continue to crap out and enter into the longest bear market in history, wiping out another generation of investors. Hope I’m wrong but I have a very bad feeling about what lies ahead. There’s a reason why private equity funds are raising billions in distressed debt funds."

Little did I know how things would unfold this week as the week started off on a positive note.

On Tuesday, September 1st, I posted this comment on LinkedIn after looking at the chart of the Nasdaq-100 index (NDX) relative to its 20-day moving average (I know, pros like using the 21-day moving average, I keep it simple and use the 20-day):

Basically, the Nasdaq-100 index was ramping up like crazy, leading the entire market higher. 

What was strange was as the market was making a record high, the volatility index (VIX) which gauges fear was at its highest level ever at a market all-time high:

That day, Zero Hedge  posted an interesting comment on the "Gamma crash up" and stated the insanity in the options market was the reason why Apple's market cap surpassed that of the entire Russell 2000:

What exactly is this Gamma crash up? Basically, there was huge speculative activity in the options markets, open interest went off the charts, people were buying massive short-term call options on a few mega cap tech stocks.

The dealers selling these options have to hedge their book to be delta neutral, and to do this, they need to buy the underlying stock. The activity on the options market was so extreme that it caused massive hedging which is why you saw outsized moves in some tech stocks like Salesforce (CRM) and Zoom (ZM) but mostly Apple (APPL), Amazon (AMZN) and Tesla (TSLA).

In other words, dealers hedging their book to remain "delta neutral" exacerbated the spike in the mega-cap tech shares. This also works the other way around in a down market, ie. massive buying of short-term put options can exacerbate the downtrend.

Who was buying these short-term call options on mega-cap tech shares? Initially, everyone blamed novice traders on Robinhood, but today we learned the identity of the real options whale:

Bloomberg posted an excellent article on how options traders whipped up a stock boom with SoftBank buying:

Note the following:

Whether it’s a single buyer or hordes of retail day traders -- or a combination where purchases by one whip up interest in the other -- the footprint is visible in popular mega-cap tech stocks such as Facebook, Amazon.com, Netflix Inc., Google’s parent Alphabet Inc., Apple and Microsoft Corp., where total open interest had exploded higher at the fastest pace since September 2018, just before the Nasdaq-100 dropped more than 20%. The action had mostly been in bullish call options.

But again, from the FT

The overall nominal value of calls traded on individual US stocks has averaged $335bn a day over the past two weeks, according to Goldman Sachs. That is more than triple the rolling average in 2017 to 2019. The retail trading boom has played a big part of the frenzy, but investors say the size of many recent option purchases are far too big to be retail-driven.

That's why I have a hard time buying that retail speculators were behind the Nasdaq ramp-up. Sure, they might have contributed to the options insanity but it was a huge whale who started the frenzy.

And then you wonder why Canada's large pensions are allocating more and more to private markets.

Apart from the insanity of having to beat an unbeatable benchmark driven by a few large tech names, they know the game is rigged in public markets where some options whales or the biggest whales on the planet right now -- central banks -- are manipulating markets:

I'm not kidding, welcome to financial communism and just like the other communism, we will have our day of reckoning too and when we do, it will be scary as all hell. 

Anyway, don't get me started on the Fed and how it and Congress took out a fire truck to extinguish a camp fire but now it seems they are smartening up:

Of course, all eyes remain on the Nasdaq-100 and its cherished heavy lifters: Apple (APPL), Amazon (AMZN), Facebook (FB), Alphabet (GOOG), Microsoft (MSFT), Netflix (NFLX) and add a few others now like NVIDIA (NVDA) and Zoom (ZM).

What does this week's tech rout mean? It means Bezos and company lost a few billions of their net worth:

I wouldn't shed a tear, however, they remain on another stratosphere and their net wealth can easily recover from here as long as everyone rushes to buy the big dip on tech:

All I can tell you is we crashed below the 20-day moving average on the Nasdaq-100 today but closed on it. The bulls will remain confident as long as it remains above its 50-day moving average.

Also, you need to put things into perspective on the FANGMAN dip:

Are things out of whack between growth and value stocks? You bet:

But don't kid yourselves, it's still a momentum market which is why I don't buy this nonsense of a "healthy rotation into value stocks."

I maintain that if tech stocks crap out, the entire market will crap out with them, it's just that the value stocks won't get beaten up as much because they haven't soared as much as tech stocks.

Still, be on guard and wary of what you hear from the claptraps on CNBC. There's no major rotation going on in this market, value stocks pop here and there but they're not catching sustained bids.

Right now the risks of a major market event are high. Just keep in mind what I stated last week when I openly wondered whether the Fed's bubble is set to implode

This time isn't different, right? 

Well, folks, that's the trillion dollar question, but if you ask me, positioning is so extreme in various risk assets (tech shares, high yield bonds, emerging markets bonds and equities, etc.) that the entire financial system is one major carry trade away from blowing up, seizing and having massive convulsions.

[...] my fear is tech shares will keep melting up and then I see a massive tech selloff coming out of nowhere (like last September) and the entire market will crap out and stay down (in other words, no major rotation). 

Keep this in mind the next time someone shows you some fancy chart on how this is the beginning of another secular bull market, similar to 2009 onward.

Nobody knows the future, including yours truly, but remember the old adage: "Bulls make money, bears make money, pigs get slaughtered."

Well, this week, Nasdaq options whales got slaughtered.

By the way, I agree with BMO, the strike price of the "Fed put" is only known to the Fed:

Alright, that's the end of my long market rant, have a great long weekend, I'll be back on Tuesday.

Below, CNBC's "Halftime Report" team breaks down their investment strategies amid the market sell-off, led by the technology stocks. Like I said, I'm wary of this talk of "healthy profit talking" and "healthy rotation out of growth into value" but take the time to watch this discussion. 

And CNBC's Dom Chu breaks down how traders are looking at the Nasdaq with Jim Iuorio of TJM Institutional Investors and Brian Stutland of Equity Armor Investments.

Lastly, CNBC’s Kelly Evans discusses markets with Komal Sri-Kumar of Sri-Kumar Global Strategies; Quincy Krosby of Prudential Financial; and Peter Boockvar, Bleakley Advisory Group. Wall Street Fear Index is at the highest level since mid-June while the Nasdaq is on pace for its worst two-day drop since March. If the news about a coronavirus vaccine continues to be positive, it’s going to underpin the market’s move away from tech as a funding mechanism for the broader markets, says Krosby. 

Great discussion but you need CNBC Pro to watch it here (they should post more clips on YouTube for free!).

Update: On Sunday, stories broke out about how Softbank is sitting on $4 billion of gains:

This story seems too convenient to be true. Nobody knows if Softbank is sitting on $4 billion gains. It could have been leaked to misinform people. If true, Jim Bianco is right, short sellers will try to hammer them this upcoming week.

On LinkedIn, oil trader Pierre Andurand questioned the SoftBank effect:

I think it is way too small a position to have such an impact on the market. $4 billion marked to market gain after such a run implies that the position is not that big for the market.

That led me to reply:

Anyone else think there was more than one “option whale” playing this Gamma trade? Maybe some sovereign wealth fund or foreign central bank (like the Swiss National Bank which is loaded up with FANGMAN stocks)? Who knows, these markets are so heavily manipulated that nothing shocks me any longer.

One thing is for sure, the market isn't looking at SoftBank too favorably after this derivatives fiasco:

Lastly, Zero Hedge provides an in-depth discussion on the "Gamma squeeze":

And on Monday, Zero Hedge stated SoftBank unwound all its major Nasdaq positions: 

“Whether the Fed will teach Masa Son a lesson is unclear, but what is certain is that SoftBank is now clearly out of the picture when it comes to fementing a gamma melt up. In fact, one can virtually assure that any further attempts to prompt a marketide gamma squeeze will be summarily punished by dealers who are now left with excess high beta stocks which they loaded up on amid the delta-hedging frenzy and now have to dump. In short, the path of least resistance in the coming day is down, not up.”

So, maybe option whales don't get slaughtered, at least not yet. Let's see what the rest of the month brings.

On Monday, SoftBank Group Corp. shares tumbled in Tokyo after reports that the Japanese conglomerate made substantial bets on equity derivatives amid the surge in technology stocks, touching off concerns that billionaire founder Masayoshi Son is embarking on a risky endeavor in unfamiliar territory. Dani Burger reports on "Bloomberg Daybreak: Europe."