Traders in the Chicago pits have been watching these kinds of wagers with an increasing mixture of shock and awe since the start of the Trump presidency. They are used to rapid fluctuations in the S&P 500 index; volatility is common, of course. But the precision and timing of these trades, and the vast amount of money being made as a result of them, make the traders wonder if all this is on the level. Are the people behind these trades incredibly lucky, or do they have access to information that other people don’t have about, say, Trump’s or Beijing’s latest thinking on the trade war or any other of a number of ways that Trump is able to move the markets through his tweeting or slips of the tongue? Essentially, do they have inside information?
…There is no way for another trader, let alone an outsider such as me, to know who is making these trades. But regulators know or can find out. One longtime CME trader who has been watching with disgust says he’s never seen anything quite like these trades, not at least since al-Qaida cashed in before initiating the September 11 attacks.
…Market manipulation also yields political dividends. Perhaps the most obvious example dates to late August, when Trump, desperate to reignite trade talks with China, boasted during the G7 summit that his counterparts in Beijing had come back to the table. “We’ve gotten two calls—very, very good calls,” he told reporters. “They mean business.” The market rose more than 900 points over the next few days. …Two U.S government officials later told CNN that Trump misspoke and “conflated” comments from China’s Vice Premier Liu He with direct communication from the Chinese. According to CNN, the officials said Trump was “eager to project optimism that might boost markets.”