Trading in ETFs Spikes to 2019 Highs as Trump, Fed Rattle Stocks

(Bloomberg) -- The renewed bout of equity volatility sent exchange-traded fund volumes through the roof this week.

More than 142 million shares of the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust changed hands Thursday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. That was the highest in three months, with trades surpassing $42 billion, the most this year. A strategy that benefits from turbulence in U.S. stocks, known as VXX, saw the biggest turnover since at least January. Heavy volume for SPY continued to trickle in on Friday as the jobs data did little to change the outlook for rate policy.

Trading in ETFs Spikes to 2019 Highs as Trump, Fed Rattle Stocks

Investors are struggling to digest the Federal Reserve’s ambiguous message on further easing after the first U.S. rate cut in a decade. Losses accelerated in the wake of President Donald Trump’s move to escalate the trade war with China, shattering a calm in markets that had been placid up until this week.

“With the Fed, obviously, and then with tariffs, those have been the two main ingredients or the two main catalysts for volatility in this market,” said Chuck Cumello, the chief executive officer of Essex Financial Services, which has about $2.8 billion in assets under management. “The market is almost like an addict to cheap money and to an accommodative Fed, and anything that upsets that supply tends to cause this bout of volatility.”

Elsewhere, one of the biggest funds tracking oil and gas companies, State Street’s XOP, had the most turnover since 2016 on Thursday amid concern over an economic slowdown. The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF saw its largest outflow since May, with investors pulling more than $1 billion. The impact of trade worries tends to be bigger for the developing world relative to advanced economies, said Chris Gaffney, president of world markets at TIAA Bank.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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