For many investors, the spookiest day of the year isn’t Halloween, but the third Friday in March, June, September, and December. The last hour of those trading days is known as the “quadruple witching hour”, when many derivatives contracts expire, often creating volatility in the markets.
That’s because there may be higher market volume on those days as traders either close out or roll over their positions.
What is Quadruple Witching Day?
Quadruple witching, or quad witching, is trader’s terminology for the four dates on the calendar when four kinds of options contracts expire: stock options, stock index futures, index options, and stock futures.
Each of the contracts has expiration dates that will match up each quarter, which is why quadruple witching, or quad witching, happens in the third, sixth, ninth and twelfth month of the year respectively. The expiration for these contracts happen at the same time in the day — the afternoon.
While events like quadruple witching may not impact how and when you invest (especially if you’re investing for the long term), they are a good reminder of the investment risks that any investing strategy or approach brings.
How much attention individual investors pay to witching day may depend on their investing philosophy and their time horizon. Since quad witching can result in short-term volatility, many passive investors may ignore them entirely. On the other hand, active investors who try to time the market and get in and out of trades quickly in the most advantageous manner, may use them to inform their strategy and consider buying or selling witching hour stocks.
Recommended: Is it Possible to Time the Stock Market?
Contracts Involved in Quad Witching
To understand quadruple witching, you have to first understand the different options contracts involved. Stock index futures, stock index options, single stock futures and single stock options are all derivatives, meaning their value corresponds to the value or change in value of an underlying asset. The underlying assets are either stock market indexes, like the S&P 500, or individual company stocks.
Options contracts give holders the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell a stock at a certain price at a future date. Futures contracts are contracts to purchase shares of a given stock at a certain price in the future.
For indices, futures and options are contracts on the value of an equity index. Investors often use these either to hedge or make outright speculations on the moves of an index. All four derivatives are complex investments that involve risks when playing the market, and they’re more often used by professional traders and institutional traders than retail investors.
How Does Quadruple Witching Affect the Market?
Quadruple witching days are those four days of the year when these types of contracts all expire, those who bought contracts and choose to exercise them will receive their stock or cash, or they make additional transactions to take advantage of arbitrage opportunities.
This can lead to more buying and selling of shares than is typical for a given day or, especially a given hour. Increased volume can mean more volatility in the markets and the possibility of large swings during the day.
One reason these days can cause hiccups in the markets is that while certain positions expire, investors may want to extend them. This means they have to “roll” the bet in order to keep it active, potentially forcing other players in the market to buy or sell, especially if the market is already volatile or choppy.
For trades that involve the transfer or automatic buying of stock, like options trades on individual shares, the quadruple witching date can mean automatic buying up of shares to fulfill the options contracts, leading to spikes even if there is no “fundamental” reason for them.
Overall, volumes in options trades can go up on quadruple witching days, which can sometimes have knock-on effects on the price of the underlying assets involved in options contracts.
Quadruple witching offers an opportunity to understand how market mechanics can affect actual prices, but it may not impact the strategy for most long-term investors. Regardless of your approach, it helps to have a savings and investing plan that you have confidence in and that matches up with your long term goals. The SoFi Invest brokerage platform offers a wide range of assets to invest in, with personalized advice and automatic investing.
If you’re more interested in active investing, whether it’s quadruple witching day or not, SoFi Invest can help with that too, with free ETF and stock trades. With StockBits, you don’t even have to purchase a whole share in order to start investing and trading, SoFi Invest offers fractional shares.
Photo credit: iStock/Radachynskyi
The information provided is not meant to provide investment or financial advice. Investment decisions should be based on an individual’s specific financial needs, goals and risk profile. SoFi can’t guarantee future financial performance. Advisory services offered through SoFi Wealth, LLC. SoFi Securities, LLC, member FINRA / SIPC . SoFi Invest refers to the three investment and trading platforms operated by Social Finance, Inc. and its affiliates (described below). Individual customer accounts may be subject to the terms applicable to one or more of the platforms below.
1) Automated Investing—The Automated Investing platform is owned by SoFi Wealth LLC, an SEC Registered Investment Advisor (“Sofi Wealth“). Brokerage services are provided to SoFi Wealth LLC by SoFi Securities LLC, an affiliated SEC registered broker dealer and member FINRA/SIPC, (“Sofi Securities).
2) Active Investing—The Active Investing platform is owned by SoFi Securities LLC. Clearing and custody of all securities are provided by APEX Clearing Corporation.
3) Cryptocurrency is offered by SoFi Digital Assets, LLC, a FinCEN registered Money Service Business.
For additional disclosures related to the SoFi Invest platforms described above, including state licensure of Sofi Digital Assets, LLC, please visit www.sofi.com/legal. Neither the Investment Advisor Representatives of SoFi Wealth, nor the Registered Representatives of SoFi Securities are compensated for the sale of any product or service sold through any SoFi Invest platform. Information related to lending products contained herein should not be construed as an offer or pre-qualification for any loan product offered by SoFi Lending Corp and/or its affiliates.