YOLO Brigade Is in Retreat With Down Days in Stocks Piling Up

A mini-skid in the S&P 500 is coinciding with a more serious development in the market’s underbelly: desertion by its fiercest bulls.

The number of call options traded has slipped from the record highs notched earlier this year when stay-at-home traders piled into bullish bets. 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.

The frenzy is fading even as the latest wave of stimulus checks floods U.S. bank accounts. Though options activity is still elevated by historical standards, previous rounds of government payments were seen to coincide with a reliable jump in volumes for call options.

All that suggests vaccinated Americans are emerging from lockdowns ready to splurge on plane tickets instead of equities, in a warning sign for a bull market famously powered by the Robinhood crowd. Waning retail support was likely one of the factors behind the S&P 500’s 0.8% slump on Tuesday, with recent favorites such as cruise operators and airlines faltering.

YOLO Brigade Is in Retreat With Down Days in Stocks Piling Up

Elevated call volumes “stood out to us as being the best indicator of the public’s intensity of affection for the equity markets,” said BTIG chief equity and derivatives strategist Julian Emanuel. “It’s not quite as elevated as it was in January, because frankly I think there’s a portion of the public that is sitting on losses in these meme stocks since that time.”

Call options, which give holders the right to buy shares at a specified price, can be purchased for as little as a few pennies.

Frenzied trading in the contracts has fueled a volatile rally in tech and small-cap stocks, with some traders piling in to push shares higher in what’s known as a “gamma squeeze.”

Activity among the smallest traders -- those who buy or sell 10 or fewer contracts at a time -- surged earlier this year during the GameStop Inc. mania when stock tips engulfed online chatrooms.

But this time time around, there are signs that the latest $1,400 checks are set to finance traditional pursuits from beach vacations to family visits.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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