Retail Trader Army Is Signaling Retreat on Latest Stimulus Wave
(Bloomberg) -- From bullish options to basketball trading cards, the multibillion-dollar retail frenzy is showing signs of fading.
Just as $1,400 stimulus checks arrive all across the U.S., day-trader favorites are losing steam, stirring speculation that the army of individual investors who disrupted markets over the past year have opted to spend the cash on plane tickets and restaurants rather than their trading apps.
Volumes in bullish options favored by members of Reddit’s WallStreetBets forum are down. Blank-check stocks are falling. Even Robinhood Markets Inc.’s ranking in Apple’s App Store has slipped below the top 100.
For now, these are just dents in millennial traders’ yearlong remaking of financial markets, which saw hedge funds whipsawed, volume records shattered and even a Congressional hearing over a struggling video-game retailer that surged 1,400% in a month. Many of their favorite trades are still not far from their peaks. But their almost concurrent declines over the past month, especially in recent days, suggest the speculative force driving them is fading.
“I think retail interest in trading ebbs and flows,” said Don Calcagni, chief investment officer at Mercer Advisors. “When you see something like a GameStop, or when you see Bitcoin has done exceptionally well, there’s increased interest. And after that hype sort of fizzles out, I think you see retail interest tend to recede from markets.”
Here are some signs of a retreat among the retail army:
Since peaking on March 15, a Goldman Sachs basket of retail favorites dropped about 7%, compared with a 2% decline in the Russell 3000.
Cathie Wood’s ARK Innovation ETF -- which has become synonymous with the retail adoration for daring tech bets -- is headed toward its worst month since the pandemic selloff a year ago, while inflows and volumes have also tapered off. The ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF, which invests in cannabis stocks, has slid 32% from its peak.
In another proxy for retail trading, the 10-day average portion of equity volumes taking place off-exchange -- where most individual traders’ orders are routed -- has declined to 42%, compared with nearly 50% in late January.
The record-breaking listing spree in special-purpose acquisition companies was seen as a sign of excess, since these so-called blank-check firms raise money publicly before looking for companies to buy.
An index of these stocks is now 21% from its February peak. Three-quarters of SPAC debuts on Tuesday traded below their listing price -- “the sound of the IPO window closing,” Julian Klymochko, chief executive officer of Accelerate Financial Technologies and a SPAC expert, said on Twitter.
A feature of the bout of retail trading mania is the Reddit horde’s use of short-dated bullish options, or calls, to wager on their darling shares. Now that’s fading somewhat, though activity remains historically elevated. A daily average of 23 million contracts has changed hands on U.S. exchanges over the past five days -- down from more than 30 million in February.
Bitcoin is down more than 8% from its peak, while Ethereum has dropped about 13%. Bitcoin volumes have fallen, and flows into listed funds tied to the crypto asset has slowed, according to JPMorgan. While it’s difficult to peg specific catalysts behind swings in this market, it’s yet another speculative favorite that’s losing momentum.
Even prices in NBA Top Shot trading cards -- sports collectibles with a crypto twist -- have started declining, data compiled from the website Add More Funds show.
All told, the YOLO -- You Only Live Once -- crowd appears distracted of late, though their mark on financial markets remains.
To be sure, macro forces have turned against some of these trades. The jump in bond yields hurts tech wagers such as the ARKK ETF and Tesla Inc., which are essentially long-duration bets on a distant, transformed future.
But while the more adventurous day traders turn elsewhere, this doesn’t necessarily mean individual investors as a whole aren’t putting more cash into stocks. Equity funds attracted a record $68 billion in the week through March 17, the latest data from Bank of America show, with a bias still toward U.S. and tech shares.
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