Traders Walk Out of CME Eurodollar Pit to Protest Trade

Local traders in the CME Group Inc.’s Eurodollar options pit walked off the job today to protest a block trade yesterday.

“These guys that stand in there all day and make prices would have loved to participate in that particular price, but they weren’t able to,” Rocco Chierici, a broker at R.J. O’Brien & Associates on the floor of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, said in a telephone interview.

Prices for the block trades of options on Eurodollar futures were higher than offers in the pit, which wouldn’t be allowed in open-outcry trading, Chierici said. Local traders buy and sell for their own account and in the process help add liquidity to a market. Block trades are privately negotiated transactions that are conducted outside the normal pit or via computer-based trading systems used by exchanges.

“There are rules that prohibit that in the pit, but you can circumvent the pit” in a block trade, Chierici said. “I believe they wanted to make the point that the system is not fair.”

Six block trades totaling 215,200 options traded at 8:11 a.m. Chicago time yesterday, according to CME Group’s website. The trade was rolling positions from April contracts, which expired today, into June contracts.

‘Longstanding Rules’

“The block trade in question was managed by longstanding rules and processes of our exchanges,” Michael Shore, a CME Group spokesman, said in an e-mail. “It was a legitimate, well-managed trade, which was executed within one tick of the market and in one trade.”

Other traders continued to help buy and sell options on Eurodollars, which are contracts tied to three-month expectations for interest rates, Shore said.

While volume has been down recently, the walk-off cut the number of orders to buy and sell today, Chierici said. “There was a small drop because a lot of the volume is local,” he said.

CME Group has seen demand for Eurodollars, once the largest contract by volume, fall as the Federal Reserve has kept its benchmark interest rate near zero since December 2008. Eurodollar options volume last month averaged 811,000 contracts per day, compared with 1.3 million on average in the same month in 2007, according to CME statements.