In Crisis-Hit Brazil, ETF Traders Actually See Less Volatility

  • Cost of three-month options at 2014 low vs 30-day contracts
  • Political developments may increase volatility in short term

Investors are betting on calmer days ahead for Brazilian stocks, according to options trading on the biggest exchange-traded fund tracking the country’s equities.

A measure of volatility for the iShares MSCI Brazil Capped ETF reached its highest level since the end of 2014 versus one tracking the U.S. stock market. But traders see the turmoil as temporary, betting volatility will drop by 9 percent in the next three months amid speculation a change of government can pave the way for needed reforms.

Investors have been whipsawed by the biggest price fluctuations in the ETF since the end of 2015 as concerns over Brazil’s worst economic slump in a century were replaced by optimism that an impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff would put an end to the political stalemate that has hurt growth.

“It is safe to say that the Dilma administration is finished and a new political era is in the offing in Brazil,” Mark Mobius, the executive chairman of Templeton Emerging Markets Group, said by e-mail Monday. “There will be many changes to come in Brazil, and they will probably be good for the economy and business, but before that there will be some pain.”

Erratic Trading

The $2.7 billion ETF, which tracks the MSCI Brazil 25/50 Index, has been among the most erratic funds this year, according to historical volatility on the 400 biggest exchange-traded funds trading in the U.S. It tumbled to the lowest in more than 10 years in January amid a rout in commodity prices and concerns about global growth. The ETF has rebounded 55 percent since then following a rally in oil, dovish comments from the Federal Reserve and as Brazil’s corruption probe helped fuel advances in the country’s stocks and currency. It slumped 0.2 percent Tuesday to $26.86 at 11:42 a.m. in New York.

The cost of three-month options to protect against price swings in the iShares Brazil fund is near the lowest in 16 months relative to 30-day contracts, indicating traders are more sanguine about the country’s equity market in the June time frame than they are about the impact from political uncertainty over the next month. While short-term volatility bets have decreased in the U.S. amid the global rally that started in February, they are still elevated in Brazil.

Pressure to impeach Rousseff was rekindled after her predecessor and mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was detained earlier this month as part of the corruption probe. While there’s uncertainty about how the investigation will expand as lawmakers accelerate impeachment proceedings over the next month, a regime change could pave the way for a government better equipped to shore up fiscal accounts and pull the country out of the recession.

Lawmaker Eduardo Cunha said last week that the lower house could vote on Rousseff’s impeachment in about a month, reducing his previous forecast of 45 days.

“Political events are causing higher risk or volatility perceptions in the near-term,” Frederic Ruffy, a senior options strategist at New York-based Trade Alert, said by e-mail. 

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