Gamma – a Market Force Getting Stronger Than Ever

What are the most persistent edges in the market? When market participants are forced to buy or sell in a predictable fashion we get reliable behavior that can be exploited and that is unlikely to disappear. 

One such hidden market force has become increasingly stronger in recent years: option market makers gamma exposure.

With large trading positions in speculative options the market neutral option dealers must buy and sell underlying securities to hedge their risk. And exactly this speculative option positioning is growing like crazy while volumes in the stock market are falling.

Hedging activity represents an increasing part of the demand and supply that changes price levels in the market.

How does Gamma Exposure work?
When the price of a security changes option market makers are forced to adjust their hedges by buying or selling the security underlying an option (e.g. a stock or an index future). This is because the price relationship between option and underlying (delta) constantly changes (gamma) and dealers must hedge these changes to avoid taking on directional market risks. 
Dealer gamma exposure can be long or short (depending on options positioning in the market) with opposite effects amounting to billions of dollars of forced supply and demand:
Long Gamma: dealers hedge by buying more with each point a security falls (and vice versa) and suppress volatility.
Short Gamma: dealers hedge by selling more with each point a security falls (and vice versa) and increase volatility – often leading to large directional moves.

You can find more background details here and trading ideas here.

Gamma Exposure Effects are Getting Stronger

Recent data shows how the activities of option speculators and therefore dealer’s hedging requirements are becoming an increasingly significant part of the overall market.
This increases the edge contained in options knowledge: how are investors, traders and dealers positioned?

Options volumes are now bigger than stock volumes

S&P 500 goes up and volumes go down
As stock liquidity is falling options activity magnifies or suppresses underlying moves purely as an effect of dealers hedging – their trades are becoming a significant part of the overall volume.

Bullish options speculation has steadily risen in recent years…

…with traders increasingly buying more calls than puts.

How can we use information on current option activity and what are tradable effects?

Gamma Unclenching
Option expiration dates (OPEX) are interesting because gamma exposure that has built up over time often changes significantly overnight – a previous article goes into additional detail. The recent August 21st OPEX, for example, was a predictable „unclenching” event that led to a tradable breakout.

Gamma Unclenching

Read about my main investing model „The Meta Strategy“ in my free, new eBook – it combines a nuanced weighting of fundamental and technical indicators to systematically adjust asset allocation and trading strategies to market regimes.

Call Roll Gamma Trap
In the beginning of August the precious metal mania generated extreme options volumes: Silver ETF, SLV, traded more calls than SPY calls; Gold (GLD) calls were number 3 and Gold Miners (GDX) number 5 among all US ETF calls (SLV options volumes approx +215% vs 20d avg, GLD +110% and GDX +140%).

A rise in in these ETF can be caused by calls being rolled up and precious metals got caught in a “Call Roll Gamma Trap” – a self-reinforcing positive feedback loop. Dealers taking the other side of traders have a negative gamma position which infers they need to buy ETFs as they rise and sell as they drop – this cycle first places a constant bid to the market and finally rolls over to cause a violent correction when large amounts of in-the-money calls are sold.

Often dealers make larger adjustments and ETF providers adjust their precious metal holdings in the overnight session leading to large gaps as the ETF price rips higher.

Call Roll Gamma Trap

In a market crash as in March 2020 the opposite effect can increase volatility to the downside.

These are some recent examples of observable effects of gamma exposure – read my previous article “Option Expiration, Gamma Exposure and all the rest“ for additional detail, ideas and background.
Dig deep into option mechanics with a recent paper by Squeezemetrics.

Good luck in your trading & thank you for reading!


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