Anticipating Declines, Traders Flock to Inverse S&P 500 ETF

Including paid dividends, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: SPY) has surged nearly 244% since the March 9, 2009 market bottom. With the current bull market now more than six years old, some traders are increasing protective hedges following a first-quarter showing for SPY that was its worst since a fourth-quarter decline in 2012.

“There were 7.6 million outstanding options protecting against U.S. stock declines as of March 31, more than twice the number of calls” and “nine of the 10 most-owned S&P 500 contracts were bearish,” report Sofia Horta E Costa and Oliver Renick for Bloomberg.

While the futures and options markets are favored destinations for professional traders looking to hedge against market declines, some traders are also flocking to inverse broad market exchange traded funds, including the leveraged variety.

For example, the Direxion Daily S&P 500 Bear 3x Shares (NYSEArca: SPXS), which attempts to deliver three times the daily inverse performance of the benchmark U.S. equity index, has seen its shares outstanding tally surge 37% since January. Assets under management at SPXS now reside north of $210 million. [Where Inverse ETFs fit in Portfolios]

Among Direxion’s triple-leveraged ETFs, only the Direxion Daily Small Cap Bear 3X Shares (NYSEArca: TZA) has seen greater creation over the past 30 days than SPXS, according to issuer data. TZA seeks to deliver three times the daily inverse performance of the Russell 2000, the benchmark U.S. small-cap index.

Over the same 30-day period, investors have redeemed shares of the Direxion Daily S&P 500 Bull 3X Shares (NYSEArca: SPXL) and the Direxion Daily Small Cap Bull 3X Shares (NYSEArca: TNA), the bullish equivalents of SPXS and TZA.

With greater returns, traders are exposed to greater risks. These products are best suited for active, risk-tolerant traders, something that both ProShares and Direxion, the two largest issuers of leveraged of inverse and leveraged ETFs, do a good job of explaining to investors on their web sites. [10 Best Leveraged ETFs]