This observation was originally published at This is Where Trend Analysis and Options Positioning Gets Interesting
Up until now, the trend S&P 500 index has failed to break above the 4200 level.
I highlighted 4200 in yellow on the chart to point out the SPX has trended around 4200 several times over the last two years, but until this week, these higher levels were met with selling pressure. The selling pressure was enough to provide overhead resistance, selling pressure not allowing the index to move to a higher high.
Such resistance is caused by investors and traders who may have been trapped at lower prices after adding exposure around this level.
Once the index gets back to the level it tapped multiple times, those who wished they’d sold sooner (before the down-trends below 4200) sell to break even.
But that’s just one example of the thinking behind the concept of resistance from selling pressure preventing a new high breakout.
Another resistance has been a large wall of call options. A Call Wall is the strike with the largest net call option gamma. Market maker (dealer) positioning can create some of the biggest resistance levels, and holds a lot of the time when a Call Wall defines the upper boundary of probable range.
Below is a recent example. The grey bars are a lot of call options on the SPX.
We expect the price to slow down as it reaches the Call Wall level, but it sometimes trends above it, then drifts back below within a few days. So, it takes more than a few days to confirm the wall of calls has increased to a higher level.
No market analysis is ever perfect.
It’s always probabilistic, never a sure thing.
Call Walls can have a sticky gamma effect, making it difficult for the price to breakout. When market makers are long gamma, it accelerates their directional exposure favorably as the size of their positions dynamically increase when they are positioned in the right direction creating an open profit. When these designated market makers have a large profit from being positioned on the correct side of the trend, they can sell some of the underlying positions (like SPX) to get their directional exposure closer to neutral and realize a profit. That’s why market makers trade in the opposite direction of the underlying (like SPX) when they are positive gamma, and this suppresses volatility and creates a pin.
So, up until now, the large Call Wall at 4200 was hard to break out of because there are so many calls the dealers were hedging and/or taking profits as the level was reached.
This form of derivatives resistance matched up with the aforementioned technical trend resistance can create a formidable overhead supply of sellers.
The selling pressure has been enough to mute the SPX, for example.
But, looking at the SPX today, up 1.5% to 4286 as of the time of this writing, the index is pushing up and may be enough to clear out all this overhang.
What could go wrong?
There is no shortage of negative macro risks, but that’s beyond the scope of this technical observation.
Next week, the SPX will see another big test with a large amount of calls set to expire.
Interestingly, today I noticed very bullish flow into VIX options betting on a volatility expansion with VIX down to 14.80 for the first time since 2021.
Meanwhile, the VIX term structure is 11% contango between July and June, so ETFs like VXX are rolling from 16.8 to 18.7 (aka selling low, buying high) which is a headwind even if VIX spikes.
So, the stock market index is trending up and trying to print higher highs and higher lows, and implied (expected) volatility is contracting.
Can the S&P 500 gain enough momentum keep trending up?
One way to view the directional trend is the price channel the stock index is creating. with higher lows and higher highs. I see this and wonder if the SPX will reach the 4400 level its trending toward.
To see if it has enough momentum left to move up that far, I look at recent velocity. Its relative strength suggests it could move up enough to tap the 4300 level before it starts to get overwrought, but then it will be.
So, 4400 may be a strength without a flat base or ~5% correction.
Only time will tell if the Call Wall, expirations, and long-vol positioning today has more impact or if there’s enough momentum to drive it higher, but we’ll be watching to see how it all unfolds.
Mike Shell is the founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Managed Portfolios. Mike Shell and Shell Capital Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor focused on asymmetric risk-reward and absolute return strategies and provides investment advice and portfolio management only to clients with a signed and executed investment management agreement. The observations shared on this website are for general information only and should not be construed as investment advice to buy or sell any security. This information does not suggest in any way that any graph, chart, or formula offered can solely guide an investor as to which securities to buy or sell, or when to buy or sell them. Securities reflected are not intended to represent any client holdings or recommendations made by the firm. In the event any past specific recommendations are referred to inadvertently, a list of all recommendations made by the company within at least the prior one-year period may be furnished upon request. It should not be assumed that recommendations made in the future will be profitable or will equal the performance of the securities on the list. Any opinions expressed may change as subsequent conditions change. Please do not make any investment decisions based on such information, as it is not advice and is subject to change without notice. Investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data are deemed reliable but are not guaranteed and should be independently verified. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. The views and opinions expressed in ASYMMETRY® Observations and Asymmetric Investment Returns are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of Shell Capital Management, LLC. The use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.