21 September 2009

Bloomberg Option Blooper

There are no end of erroneous statements regarding options that appear in financial publications. Today I'm going to pick on an article in Bloomberg, because I just happened to do something I don't often do... and that is read Bloomberg. (Nothing worse about Bloomberg than other Wall Street Cheerleaders, I don't often read much of any of them).

Oil Options Hit Highs as Verleger Predicts 44% Plunge

Sept. 21 (Bloomberg) -- Oil traders are paying more than ever in the options market to protect against a plunge in crude prices.

Oil options are something I follow pretty closely, so fearing a volatility spike that I had missed, I immediately pulled up $OVX (The VIX of oil options)

Hmmmmm IV near recent lows, no spike there. What could our B'berg author be on about here. Reading further:

The gap between prices of options betting on a decline and those that would profit from a rise in oil widened to a record 10 percentage points, according to five years of data compiled by Banc of America Securities-Merrill Lynch...
...Options granting the right to sell, or put, oil in December below current prices have a so-called implied volatility of 54.3 percent, compared with 43.3 percent for the equivalent options to buy, or call, data from the New York Mercantile Exchange show.

What's this? The arbitrage opportunity of the century? As I pulled up the option chain for December crude, I was multitasking and transferring every cent of spare cash in my trading account for mountains of reversal margin. Alas, I was disappointed as both ATM calls and puts were priced equally in terms of volatility.

What the f*** were they on about?

The subtle clue is what I have retrospectively bolded in the above quote. The author was comparing the IV of WOTM puts to WOTM calls. This is nothing more than a downside price skew. Skew is common in all sorts of markets; in fact it would be a little unusual for a market not to have some degree of skew to one side or another.

It's true that event sensitive commodities usually have skew to the upside and therefore skew to the downside in oil is noteworthy. The hypothesis that oil probably will experience some downside pressure is a fair one. But I wish they would call a spade a spade rather than dishing out erroneous bullshit on on options like this article has. Options are confusing enough for the neophyte, without inaccuracies from supposedly authoritative sources.

Give yourself an uppercut Bloomberg.


Anonymous said...

I guess when the author refers to it as "so called IV" their not quite sure what its all about.

Awesome pickup!!

Mark Wolfinger said...

Bloomberg is notorious for its options articles.

They don't seem to care about correcting their MANY mistakes.

Wayne said...


Are they all as bad as that?