Black Swan Events

This is the catch phrase every single news channel likes to throw around. It is an event that is beyond what is normally expected. The word ‘normally’ is a bit subjective. When you start trading, for the first few months upper or lower circuits would seem like abnormal events. Soon you would get used to extreme volatility where 8% up and 9% down happens one day after another. You will see a stock tanking 10% after a historically bumper result. And through all this if you manage to keep your account afloat, you will see the shortest bear market in the history lasting about a month from peak to trough.

But let us see some events that would have surely caught many ‘professional’ traders off guard too.

There is one event I would like to talk about. One where the value of crude oil contracts went negative.

No, it did not mean that you could go to petrol pump and get paid to fill the tank of your car. It was a time where world was locked down due to COVID-19. There was little demand for crude. People holding long futures of crude would have to take delivery of oil on expiry of their contract. It is worth mentioning here that crude contracts are physically settled in US unlike on MCX where they are cash settled. So long traders would have been stuck with barrels upon barrels of crude which had no demand in the market or any economically viable place to store. So, traders started selling the contracts. Selling did not stop. Eventually the ask side of the orders started working in negative. Traders were ready to pay money to close their long positions because taking a delivery would have meant an astronomical loss.

At least in the US the exchanges could process negative orders and the market kept running. In India last traded price of April month future contact was 965 rupees but the final settlement price was assigned as negative 2884 rupees.

A lot of traders and brokers have moved to various courts of appeal. Traders and brokers claim that MCX had no system to submit negative price in spreads and hence it cannot assign a negative price for settlement.

The cases are still in the court. The difference between LTP and settlement price was over 3500 Rs. Multiply that by 100 barrels per contract and a long trader could have potentially lost 3.5 lakhs per contract that day. That is more than the margin requirement for the same contract at that time.

Results from the court are still awaited. The traders who lost big that day might get some of their money back. But that will take time. And they would have lost precious opportunities that presented themselves from April till today.

Nobody, not even our exchanges had anticipated negative prices before this event. Since then the margin requirement on crude oil has increased a lot. Currently it is more than even the notional value of the contract.

Black swan events are unexpected. So naturally there are little safeguards in place against them. But there is always a way to prevent large losses. Here I mean losses large enough to mess with your psychology, make you lose confidence. It might reduce your capital so much that it is no longer viable for you to trade.

Remember, in trading, not losing money is more important than making a lot of money. It is prudent to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

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