As traders freak out over junk, one takes advantage

The recent plunge in high-yield bonds has dramatically increased the perceived risk around products like the iShares high yield corporate bond ETF (HYG). And it appears that some traders are trying to take advantage of the market's skiddishness.

On Wednesday morning, one trader made a large options trade that allows access to profits if the HYG rises byMarch, but puts that trader's money on the line if the ETF falls further.

Of course, this is a similar profit/loss relationship to simply buying the HYG. But what's impressive is how little the HYG has to rise in order for this options trade to pay off, and how much it has to fall for the trader to lose money.

In the morning's biggest trade on the HYG, a trader appeared to buy 12,992 82-strike call contracts expiring in March for $1.35 per share (or $135 per contract), and simultaneously sell 12,992 75-strike put contracts expiring in March for $1.32 per share.

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This trade, which was effectively put on for free, will yield profits if the (HYG) rises above $82, and only lose money if the (HYG) falls below $75. Since the ETF was trading at $80.12 when the trade was put in, the trader gets to capture upside exposure just 2.3 percent above current levels, while only being exposed to downside 6.4 percent below current levels.

"It looks like the trade was taking advantage of that downside protection costing more than the upside pop," said Stacey Gilbert, head of derivatives strategy at Susquehanna. "The sentiment is skewed to the downside, but this trade is taking advantage of that skew."


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Sara Eisen

Sara Eisen joined CNBC in December 2013 as a correspondent, focusing on the global consumer. She is co-anchor of the 10AM ET hour of CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" (M-F, 9AM-11AM ET), broadcast from Post 9 at the New York Stock Exchange.

In March 2018, Eisen was named co-anchor of CNBC's "Power Lunch" (M-F, 1PM-3PM ET), which broadcasts from CNBC Global Headquarters in Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

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