09.27.2011
By Terry Flanagan

Mixed Reactions to Volatility

The ongoing tumult has been a boost to market participants that thrive on volatility and order flow, but it has also pushed away others.

With volatility continuing amid economic concerns and declining investor confidence, certain market participants are choosing to stand idly by until conditions settle down.

“Unfortunately for retail investors, a lot of the volume in the market is driven by professional investors, hedge funds and speed traders,” said Timothy Hurley, managing director of Bentley Associates. “It’s hard to segregate out the retail investors. I believe it’s put a damper on retail activity, because there’s a tendency to ‘go in a hole’ until things stabilize a little bit.”

In times of volatility it becomes difficult to discern the source of the trading activity. Although observers say that many investors are scared off by the dramatic swings brought on by excessive volatility, the trading volume numbers tell a different story.

According to BATS Global Markets, equity trading volume was on the decline since reaching a peak of nearly 18 billion shares on Aug. 8. About 10.6 billion shares were traded per day on average in August. For the month-to-date in September, ADV has fallen to about 8.4 billion. Volume once again shot up to over 13 billion shares traded on Sept. 22, which was the most volume seen since Aug. 10. The most recent spike coincided with the Chicago Board Options Exchange’s Market Volatility Index shooting up above 40 for the first time in about a month.

The VIX, also known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” reached a high of 48 on Aug. 8, as the markets reacted to the debt ceiling situation and the Standard & Poor’s downgrade of U.S. debt. It then hovered around the mid-30s for the following weeks. The last time the VIX was under 30 was Aug. 3.

“Momentum traders love this volatility,” said Hurley. “There are certain investors that make money on volatility. For the rest of us, the people who are the long-term, buy and hold group, this sort of volatility is chilling, and has a chilling effect on their willingness to invest and trade. They just wait until things stabilize and they can see a more predictable future.”

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