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'Busiest Trading Day Ever': Brokerages, Retail Clients React To Volatility

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'Busiest Trading Day Ever': Brokerages, Retail Clients React To Volatility
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It’s been a busy few days for brokerages and robo advisors, and the early indications are in: retail investors were not only unfazed by the recent sell-off, but they were eager to buy the dip.

"We saw a large spike in transaction volume and trading activity on the platform [Monday] as well as [Tuesday] morning,” Jack Randall, head of communications at Robinhood, told Benzinga. “Retail investors deposited 20 percent more funds into their Robinhood accounts [Monday] than they did on Friday.”

Fidelity Investments saw similar spikes in trading volume.

“Friday was the second busiest trading day in Fidelity’s history, and Monday was THE busiest trading day ever,” Robert Beauregard, director of public relations at Fidelity Investments, told Benzinga in an email.

The reaction wasn’t out of the ordinary. In fact, the behavior was consistent with that seen after Brexit or during the August 2015 Dow drop, Randall said.

TD Ameritrade Holding Corp. (NASDAQ: AMTD) generally expects to see increases in trading volume at elevated volatility levels, according to senior trading specialist Shawn Cruz.

Buying The Dip

Analysts attributed Monday’s alarming sell-off to a jump in Treasury yields, to quant funds deleveraging volatility-related positions or to an overdue correction rather than any fundamental factors. For the most part, they saw opportunity to capitalize, and so did investors.

"We're seeing many customers making deposits looking to buy the dip,” Joe Ziemer, vice president of communications at Betterment, told Benzinga.

Fidelity clients were bullish to an unusual extent Friday, when the firm registered 52 percent more buys than sells or a 1.52 ratio. By Tuesday close, that ratio had extended to 1.7. For comparison, the Thursday ratio was 1.24, Monday 1.09 and 2017 full-year 1.13.

David Russell, vice president at TradeStation, considered it panic buying — a moment proving the merits of hedge strategies and vigilance.

“It looks to me like there was complacency,” Russell told Benzinga. “The VIX was at such a low level. There were a lot of people short volatility, and then it started to spike and they needed to cover everything at once.”

What Are They Buying?

Regardless of their reasons, investors were buying, and their purchases weren’t entirely standard.

On Monday, TradeStation clients were more active in ProShares Trust Ultra VIX Short Term Futures ETF (NYSE: UVXY), ProShares Trust II (NYSE: SVXY) and iPath S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures TM ETN (NYSE: VXX) than in Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN) and NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ: NVDA).

On Tuesday, Fidelity investors were back targeting typical trenders: Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL), Amazon, Nvidia and SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust (NYSE: SPY).

But Credit Suisse AG - VelocityShares Daily Inverse XIV Short (NYSE: XIV) and SVXY short-term VIX futures also saw strong buy-favored traffic. UVXY registered great sell-heavy activity while Credit Suisse AG - VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short Term (NYSE: TVIX), the eighth most popular trade, saw a near even mix of buys and sells.

“In the near term, there will likely be more back-and-forth trading until the market can re-establish some levels,” Cruz said. “But for now, things seem to be consolidating and we’re starting to see investors cautiously moving back into equities.”

Taylor Cox and Spencer Israel contributed reporting.

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