It's hard to judge today's sell off because options expire tomorrow: How much has that added to the selling pressure?

05/20/2010 1:52 pm EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

So far today, it’s a rout.

Investors aren’t just selling stocks with big exposure to troubles in Europe or financials at risk from Senate’s financial reform legislation, they’re selling everything.

Commodities stocks such as Statoil (STO)—down 6.24% as of 1:20 ET today.

Gold ETFs such as Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF GDX)—down 4.7%.

U.S. growth stocks such as Cummins (CMI)—down 8.94%.

U.S. technology favorites such as Apple (AAPL)—down 4.35%.

Chinese technology favorites such as Baidu (BIDU)—down 4.11%.

Some investors are throwing in the towel.

But some of today’s selling of everything is a result of the options calendar.

Tomorrow, May 21, is a big options expiration day. That means a lot of the action today is by big traders setting themselves up for the expiration of their options tomorrow. I’m not an options expert by any means but when stocks are falling, big investors who want to stay neutral on their options portfolios can wind up having to sell stocks. Some of today’s selling isn’t because the world as we know it is coming to an end but because of the internal workings of the financial markets in the very short term. And the expiration of options is certainly related to today’s spike in the VIX volatility index to a new 52-week high

The day before expiration and the day of expiration always add extra volatility to the markets. And that makes today’s action especially hard to read.

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