Traders With 5 Billion Euros in Put Options Hit Jackpot on Franc

When the Swiss National Bank decided to remove its cap on the franc today, it handed a winning lottery ticket to some traders of currency options.

Almost 5 billion euros ($5.8 billion) notional of options to sell the euro against the franc at less than 1.20 per euro were registered with the Depository Trust & Clearing Corp. since Oct. 15 and were still outstanding today. Those trades, which depended on the cap being breached or removed to be profitable, would make money based on the current exchange rate.

“It’s good for those who put on these winning bets because they are going to be deep in the money,” said Neil Jones, head of hedge fund sales at Mizuho Bank Ltd. in London. “It’s like a lottery event because not many people envisaged this to happen at this point.”

The SNB, the central bank based in Bern and Zurich, imposed its limit on the exchange rate as an exodus from euro assets during the region’s debt crisis in 2011 strengthened the franc and raised the prospect of deflation. While the limit was pierced only once, in April 2012, options traders continued to speculate on an appreciation of the franc amid signs the European Central Bank was preparing a program of buying government bonds that may weaken the euro.

Of the 5 billion euros of options, 1.38 billion euros expire within a month, the DTCC data show.

After the decision by the SNB, the franc strengthened to 85.172 centimes per euro, a record, based on data compiled by Bloomberg. It was at 1.0372 francs per euro at 5:47 p.m. London time.

ICAP’s EBS, whose markets are used by some traders to determine whether options pay out, said the franc peaked at 85 centimes per euro.

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