Thursday, February 25, 2021

The Evolution of the VIX (1)

Volatility is notorious for clustering in the short-term, mean-reverting in the medium-term and settling into multi-year macro cycles over the long-term.  I have chronicled each of these themes in this space in the past.

Apart from volatility, I have also taken great pains to talk about the movements of the VIX, which is one of the most famous instances of implied volatility and represents investor expectations about future volatility in the S&P 500 Index for the next thirty calendar days.  Surprising to some, the VIX and volatility (which generally refers to realized or historical volatility), while correlated, are very different animals.  Not only are these two very different, their evolutions have been very different as well.  Volatility, which has a much longer history, seems to exhibiting the same traits that it has exhibited throughout its lifetime, with relatively modest tweaks around the edges from time to time.

The same cannot be said for the VIX.  One thing about the VIX that has changed in the three decades or so of VIX data is the speed at which the VIX has moved up and down.  In a nutshell, VIX cycle times have shortened dramatically.  In other words, the VIX now has a tendency to spike much faster and mean-revert downward much faster as well.  This phenomenon has been ongoing for the past decade or so, but it became more pronounced following the Brexit craziness – or at least the first chapter of the Brexit craziness.

One way you can see how the changes in the VIX have differed from the changes in the volatility of the SPX is to look at volatility spikes.

In the first graphic, below, I show the number of days per year with 2% and 4% moves in the SPX going back to 1990.  Take note of the ebbs and flows in volatility and the clustering of volatility around the dotcom bubble and again around the 2008 Great Recession.

[source(s):  CBOE, Yahoo, VIX and More]

In the second graphic, I plot annual VIX spikes of 20% or more for each year going back to 1990.  Note that while visual inspection does not reveal any obvious trend in the SPX volatility data, the VIX spike data for the same period show a pronounced upward trend, reflecting the heightened sensitivity of the VIX to changes in volatility of the SPX.  In other words, even though volatility may be the same, the VIX is becoming more sensitive to volatility.  Another example that supports this point:  of all the one-day spikes in the VIX of 30% or more, 71% have happened in the past decade and only 29% are from the previous two decades.  The volatility landscape may or may not be changing, but the VIX is.

[source(s):  CBOE, Yahoo, VIX and More]

Further Reading:
Clustering of Volatility Spikes
Putting Low Stock Volatility to Good Use (Guest Columnist at Barron’s)
What My Dog Can Tell Us About Volatility
My Low Volatility Prediction for 2016: Both Idiocy and Genius
What Is Historical Volatility?
Calculating Centered and Non-centered Historical Volatility
Rule of 16 and VIX of 40
Shrinking VIX Macro Cycles
Chart of the Week: VIX Macro Cycles and a New Floor in the VIX
The New VIX Macro Cycle Picture
Recent Volatility and VIX Macro Cycles
VIX Macro Cycle Update
Was 2007 the Beginning of a New Era in Volatility?
VIX Macro Cycles
Last Two Days Are #5 and #6 One-Day VIX Spikes in History
2014 Had Third Highest Number of 20% VIX Spikes
Today’s 34% VIX Spike and What to Expect Going Forward
All-Time VIX Spike #11 (and a treasure trove of VIX spike data)
The Biggest VIX Spike Ever: A Retrospective
VIX Sets Some New Records, Suggesting Volatility Near Peak
Highest Intraday VIX Readings
Short-Term and Long-Term Implications of the 30% VIX Spike
VIX Spike of 35% in Four Days Is Short-Term Buy Signal
VXO Chart from 1987-1988 and Explanation of VIX vs. VXO
Volatility History Lesson: 1987
Volatility During Crises
Chart of the Week: VXV and Systemic Failure
Forces Acting on the VIX
A Conceptual Framework for Volatility Events

For those who may be interested, you can always follow me on Twitter at @VIXandMore

Disclosure(s): short VIX at time of writing

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Attempt at TVIXF Short Squeeze Fizzling Out

Amidst all of the market turmoil following the Reddit wallstreetbets efforts to put a massive short squeeze on the likes of GME, AMC, BBY, EXPR, KOSS, BB, etc., it was just a matter of time before this same short squeeze template was applied to ETPs.  On January 28th, silver became a short squeeze target and the primary silver ETP, SLV, was suddenly in the crosshairs and trading volume spiked about 10x.

On Monday, the OTC remnant of the venerable TVIX ETN, delisted by Credit Suisse on July 12, 2020 and now trading under the TVIXF ticker, became the target of yet another copycat short squeeze effort.

Yesterday, Yacob Peterseil of Bloomberg summarized the developments in the TVIXF short squeeze attempt in the aptly titled, A Onetime Giant of Volatility Has Gone Haywire in OTC Trading.  Peterseil noted that only 7% of TVIXF’s outstanding shares have been sold short, which dramatically limits the potential success for a short squeeze.  In the article, I am quoted as not being surprised that an attempt was made to squeeze the TVIXF shorts given the success of previous short squeeze efforts, but I also note that an effort to squeeze the shorts is very risky for longs in that the last time there was a similar undertaking, Credit Suisse declared an acceleration event and crushed the longs.  It is the risk of an acceleration event that forces the price to the indicative value (IV) – a feature that is unique to ETPs and does not apply to single stocks – that makes shorting ETPs much riskier.

The historical reference above is to DGAZF, which went from about 400 to about 25,000 in one week during a short squeeze in August 2020 when the indicative value was near 200.  The decoupling of the market price on the OTC from indicative value was in large part due to the cessation of the ability to generate new creation units and thus the ability to use shorts to arbitrage any difference between the market price and indicative value.  With large losses incurred by investors and the associated bad publicity, Credit Suisse elected to accelerate DGAZF.   As noted above, the acceleration of the note was executed at the indicative value price, not the market price:  “As described in the Pricing Supplement, investors will receive a cash payment per ETN equal to the arithmetic average of the closing indicative values of the ETNs during the accelerated valuation period.”  As a result of the acceleration to the indicative value, investors who saw DGAZF trade at 125x its indicative value were exposed to a 99.2% loss.

Not surprisingly, the TVIX prospectus and pricing supplement has essentially the same language regarding acceleration at indicative value as DGAZ, with the pricing supplement noting no less than a dozen times that in an acceleration event, the redemption price reverts to indicative value rather than the market price. 

If some of this talk of short squeezes, premium to indicative value and suspension of creation units sounds familiar, this is not the first time it has happened to TVIX.  I covered the initial instance of the suspension of creation units in TVIX at length back in 2012, when most investors were still not familiar with the intricacies of indicative value, creation units, the potential for short squeezes and the potential for market prices to decouple dramatically from indicative value.

In the graphic below, I show the recent uncoupling of TVIXF from TVIX.IV (TVIX’s indicative value) and the premium that has developed as a result of the short squeeze peaking at 44% on Monday and falling back to 29% as of today.  The key takeaway for longs is that at any point in time, Credit Suisse can do as they did with DGAZF and declare an accelerating event, forcing the distorted OTC market price back down to indicative value in a hurry.

[source(s):  Yahoo, VIX and More]

Further Reading:
The Resurrection of TVIX
TVIX Premium to Indicative Value Creeping Back Up
TVIX Creation Units Return; What It Means for Investors
Is TVIX Now Just a More Docile UVXY?
Recent TVIX Volume and VIX Futures Volume
The Story of VIX ETPs Relative to their Intraday Indicative Values
The Ups and Downs of the New Premium in TVIX
Credit Suisse Suspends Creation Units in TVIX: What it Means
Four Key Drivers of the Price of TVIX
Will TVIX Go to Zero?
TVIX Topples VXX as Highest Volume VIX ETP
Who Is Trading TVIX?
Volatility Becomes Unhinged on Friday
TVIX Finally Getting Its Due As Day Trading Rocket Fuel
TVIX Trades One Million Shares for First Time
All About UVXY

For those who may be interested, you can always follow me on Twitter at @VIXandMore

Disclosure(s): none

Monday, October 26, 2020

Performance of the VIX in the Two Weeks Before and After Presidential Elections

A convergence of concerns related to stimulus, elections, COVID-19 and earnings (courtesy of a big SAP earnings miss) caused the VIX to jump 17.8% today.  How much of that was related to the election?  Well…the 9-day VIX9D spiked 47.8% today, now that the election is within the 9-day measurement window for the first time.  The bottom line is that election uncertainty and anticipated volatility is currently a huge factor in the mindset of the investor.

This raises the question of how jumpy the VIX tends to be in advance of elections and what happens after the election.  If you know anything about what happens to the VIX around FOMC announcement days, you will find considerable similarities when it comes to elections.  Specifically, the VIX responds to the upcoming event risk by increasing steadily into the event, dropping sharply on the day of the event and declining even more as the event recedes in the rear-view mirror.

Of course, most think this election is different.  While that is certainly true, all elections are unique in their own way and yet the same general principles apply.

Note that in the graphic below I normalized all the VIX readings from 1992-2016, with the exception of 2008, which just happened to fall at the height of the Great Recession, so the 2008 data is excluded, as it would otherwise skew the results.


[source(s):  CBOE, Yahoo, VIX and More]

Further Reading:
The VIX and the Pre-FOMC + Post-FOMC Trades
VIX Trends Around FOMC Announcement Days
VIX Price Movement Around FOMC Meetings
Post-Election Risk Trending Up in Treasuries and the Euro, Down in U.S. Stocks
VIX Sets New Record with Nine Up Days in a Row
Top VIX Crushes in History
How to Trade Options Around Volatile Events (Barron’s)
A Conceptual Framework for Volatility Events
Volatility During Crises
Fear Poll: Fiscal Cliff Fears Spike, Concerns About Excessive Central Bank Intervention Rise
Fiscal Cliff Worries Grow As Election Nears
The Hollande Discount
Chart of the Week: Intrade and the Midterm Elections
Chart of the Week: Intrade and Control of the House of Representatives

For those who may be interested, you can always follow me on Twitter at @VIXandMore

Disclosure(s): none

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Updating the Current VIX-Based ETP Landscape

There is a lot going on in the markets, with several themes weighing on volatility or the potential for more volatility.  COVID-19 cases are spiking to new highs in Europe and the U.S. and could be at an inflection point in the U.S.  Election uncertainty is also unnerving investors with the election only nine days away.  Lasts and not least, markets are strongly influenced by the Pelosi-Mnuchin stimulus dance, which appears to have migrated from a tango to a polka – but at least the music is still playing.

In the time since I was a regular contributor in this space, a lot has happened in the volatility world and the VIX ETP space has also changed dramatically.  For this reason, it seems like a good time to update a favored VIX ETP graphic to reflect the many products that have closed, matured and been moved to the pink sheets.  In keeping with tradition (this graphic has been published many times in various incarnations since 2010), I have plotted all of the VIX ETPs with respect to their target maturity (X-axis) and leverage (Y-axis).

It has taken more a decade, but the bottom line is that the VIX ETP space has essentially been narrowed down to two dominant products:

VXX (iPath Series B S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN) – the pioneering +1 long volatility ETN that launched back on January 30, 2009 and has been the dominant product in the VIX ETP space throughout its lifetime

UVXY (ProShares Ultra VIX Short-Term Futures ETF) – the +1.5x ETF that spent most of its life as a +2x product and moved to +1.5x following the February 2018 Volmageddon event which resulted in the termination of XIV

Both VXX and UVXY trade an average of over 30 million shares per day and both are regularly in the top 5-10 highest volume ETPs as well as ETP options volume leaders.  The remaining VIX ETPs have been largely relegated to niche product status.  Additionally, Credit Suisse delisted and suspended its VelocityShares ETNs, meaning that the former TVIX, VIIX and ZIV now trade in the OTC market under the symbols TVIXF, VIIXF and ZIVZF.  For this reason and because of low liquidity and the increased risk with trading on the OTC “pink sheets.” I have highlighted these tickers in red.

[source(s):  VIX and More]

Further Reading:
VIX ETPs Flash Some Green in 2016
Every Single VIX ETP (Long and Short) Lost Money in 2015
Performance of VIX ETPs During the Recent Debt Ceiling Crisis
Expanded Performance of Volatility-Hedged and Related ETPs
Performance of Volatility-Hedged ETPs
Performance of VIX ETP Hedges in Current Selloff
Slicing and Dicing all 31 Flavors of the VIX ETPs
Charting the Assets of the Volatility-Based ETPs

For those who may be interested, you can always follow me on Twitter at @VIXandMore

Disclosure(s): net short VXX and UVXY at time of writing

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Looking at Coronavirus Cases per Million, by Country

Further to yesterday’s Coronavirus (COVID-19), post, Tracking the Trajectory and Peak of Coronavirus Cases, I want to make sure we are thinking not just in terms of the absolute number of confirmed cases, but also cases per million. 

The graphic below highlights the countries which have been hit hardest on a per capita basis.  Using this criterion, Iceland is the country where the coronavirus is most prevalent, followed by Italy, South Korea, Iran, China and Switzerland.  These six countries stand out as having passed an inflection point.  Given the data out of Western Europe in the past 48 hours, it appears as if Spain, Sweden, France and Denmark are not far behind.  The U.S. currently ranks 41st in terms of cases per million, with just 1/100th of the penetration in Iceland.

[source(s):  Wikipedia, VIX and More]

Assuming the distribution of new cases continues to trace a parabolic path, being able to reasonably estimate the terminal penetration rate – which will no doubt vary by country – could help to set expectations about the progress and timeline of new cases.

Finally, to follow up on yesterday’s post, I am now dating the first day of 100 new cases in the U.S. at March 7th.  Using the 8-14 day window for 100 new cases to peak new cases means the U.S. could see peak new cases in the March 15th – March 22nd time frame, with an outside shot of the peak extending out to March 29th.  Of course, this projection are merely an extrapolation from the experience in other countries and will be largely dependent upon the rate at which testing is ramped up in the U.S.

Further Reading:

For those who may be interested, you can always follow me on Twitter at @VIXandMore


Monday, March 9, 2020

Tracking the Trajectory and Peak of Coronavirus Cases

I have seen a lot written about the Coronavirus, a.k.a. COVID-19, but I have yet to see any informed discussion about the trajectory of cases in various regions, the cycle time to peak new cases or meaningful predictions about the future course of the spread of the virus.

So here are some thoughts on the subject, using historical data from Wikipedia that is more standardized in time and collection methodology than any other data I have been able to find on the Web.  First, I examined the entire history of case data by country and found inflection points that roughly correspond to 10 new cases and 100 new cases per day.  As identification of initial cases is somewhat problematic given the variable protocols for testing, availability of testing kits, timing of nearby positive cases, etc. I elected to use the 100 new cases per day threshold.

It turns out that there have been seven countries so far that have logged 100 new COVID-19 cases in a single day.  In order of reaching that 100 new cases threshold, they are:  China (January 21st), South Korea (February 21st), Italy (February 26th), Iran (February 27th), France (March 5th), Germany (March 6th) and Spain (March 6th).  The U.S. has come close to the 100 new case threshold and may indeed hit that mark today or tomorrow.

The graphic below shows the daily number of new cases in each of the seven 100+ new case countries.  Note that it is reasonable to expect some sort of parabolic pattern for new cases with a steep jump in new cases that eventually flattens out, peaks and declines in a similar fashion.  This pattern probably would have been the case in China, except that on February 10th, China changed the methodology for counting new “confirmed” cases from relying strictly on the basis of a positive result from a lab testing kit to cases that included patients where CT scans for pneumonia allowed for a “confirmed” case clinical diagnosis for likely COVID-19 cases without having to wait for a lab test and results.

[source(s):  Wikipedia, VIX and More]

To summarize the data in the graph, three of the four countries that are at least ten days from the initial 100-case day have seen what appears to be a peak in new cases.  In China, it was 22 days from 100 cases to peak new cases, though it is possible that peak new cases might have been 14 days if China had not expanded the methodology for defining new cases to include a clinical diagnosis.

In South Korea, a concerted effort to ramp up testing as quickly as possible is probably responsible for the fact that South Korea saw a peak in new cases just 9 days after the first 100-case day.

While the peak in new case data in Iran should be considered provisional, the current peak in new cases was only 8 days after the first 100-case day, perhaps aided by the steep trajectory in new cases during the first five days.

Italy is the outlier in that there are no signs of a peak some ten days after the first 100-case day, though it is reasonable to expect that the newly implemented national lockdown and public gathering measures will help to slow the rate of new cases going forward.

The remaining three Western European countries – France, Germany and Spain are only 3-4 days into their post-100 timeline, so it is too early to talk about a peak.

The first quick takeaway is that the time from 100 new cases to peak new cases seems to cluster around 8-14 days or perhaps 8-22 days if you overlook the changes in the methodology for counting new cases in China.

Second, with the U.S. new case count hovering just below 100, it is reasonable to expect that the 8-14 day window for new cases will also apply to the U.S. putting a likely peak count in the March 17th – March 24th time frame, with an outside shot of the peak extending out to April 1st.  This assumes, of course, that the U.S. follows a similar trajectory to the other countries.  Along those lines, it will be interesting to see if Italy’s new cases peak during the next week.

Obviously, there are a number of factors that can affect how successful a country can be in containing the COVID-19 outbreak, conduct an appropriate number of tests and other factors. Japan, for instance, had its first case almost two months ago and has yet to approach 100 new cases in a day.

More to come on the COVID-19 global outbreak, the VIX, volatility and more.

Further Reading:

For those who may be interested, you can always follow me on Twitter at @VIXandMore

Disclosure(s): none

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Euro Zone VSTOXX ETNs Land on U.S. Beaches!

Think the market is too complacent about this weekend’s election in France?  Worried that the euro area is going to crumble under the weight of Italy’s struggles?  Convinced that Greece, Portugal or Spain are just one more kicked can away from a disaster?

As of tomorrow, investors in the U.S. will have another way to translate these ideas into actionable trades with tomorrow’s launch of two new exchange-traded notes (ETNs) – EVIX (long euro zone volatility) and EXIV (inverse euro zone volatility) – from VelocityShares and UBS that put a European face on existing U.S. VIX-based products such as VIIX and perennial favorite XIV.

Based on the VSTOXX, the VIX-like volatility index for the EURO STOXX 50 Index of 50 blue-chip stocks from 11 euro zone countries, EVIX and EXIV should be familiar to those who are knowledgeable about VXX and VIIX on the long volatility side as well as XIV and SVXY on the short volatility side.  EVIX and EXIV are based on VSTOXX futures and have a target maturity of 30 days – a maturity that is maintained by rolling a portion of the portfolio each day and therefore subjecting both products to the vagaries of contango and backwardation.  In the event these are terms you are not familiar with, I strongly recommend that you click on the links above and educate yourself.  Believe it or not, this is the ninth year I have been talking about the VIX futures term structure, negative roll yield, contango and backwardation.  (Those who have been paying attention since the early days of VXX and VXZ have no doubt profited mightily from this knowledge.)

The beauty of EVIX and EXIV is that these products create so much flexibility for investors who maintain a global, cross-asset class view of volatility.  In the run-up to the first round of the French election, for example, VSTOXX spiked dramatically and pushed the VSTOXX:VIX ratio below 1.00, creating some interesting arbitrage opportunities and/or pairs trades in the process.  Now investors can trade euro zone volatility against U.S. volatility, use targeted hedges for risk that is specific to the euro zone or speculate more easily about the direction of volatility in the euro zone.

I encourage everyone to study the EVIX and EXIV prospectus closely.

This is a huge development in the volatility space and if options on EVIX and EXIV follow later this week, as expected, the volatility trading landscape will be much richer and more diverse. 

Now if we can only get liquid volatility products for gold volatility (GVZ) and crude oil volatility (OVX), I won’t even have to set out a stocking next to the chimney this Christmas.

While I’m at it, why are there no options on XIV?  This is such a popular high-beta product that it deserves options so traders can express a broader range of opinions on volatility.  Readers, it never hurts to nudge the CBOE on these issues.  An outpouring of popular sentiment can make a difference.

As the risk of charging off into full rant mode, I feel compelled to say that I hope volatility investors know a good thing when they see it.  It is a shame that VXST futures did not attract enough attention to hang around and that VMAX and VMIN are not trading with higher volumes.  One of the best volatility products ever created, ZIV, nearly died of neglect before investors finally paid it some attention.

As I see it, EVIX and EXIV as well as VMAX and VMIN are test cases for the future of the breadth of volatility products.  If you would like a diverse tapestry of volatility products in the future, it would not hurt to “buy local” volatility ETPs rather than sticking to the handful of already successful products.  If you don’t vote with your feet, you had better be happy playing in a small and rather limited sandbox.  I am fond of saying, “In volatility, there is opportunity!” – but that opportunity is a function of the richness of the various volatility product platforms.

Last but not least, I know Eurozone and eurozone are the preferred spellings, but I am sticking to the two-word “euro zone” with as much stubbornness as I can muster.  What can I say, I am short convention…

Further Reading:

For those who may be interested, you can always follow me on Twitter at @VIXandMore

Disclosure(s): net short VXX and VMAX; net long XIV and ZIV at time of writing.  The CBOE is an advertiser on VIX and More.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Ten Years Since the Biggest VIX Spike Ever

Ten years ago today, we witnessed that largest one-day VIX spike in the nearly three decade history of the VIX.  On that day, the VIX rallied from a prior close of 11.15 to 18.31 – a 64.2% gain.  The move came in conjunction with a 3.5% decline in the SPX (large, but nothing like what would follow during the next two years) and followed overnight concerns related to the Chinese government raising interest rates to discourage speculation.  The fears in China were largely responsible for a 8.8% loss in the Shanghai Composite Index and a 9.9% loss in the FTSE/Xinhua China 25 index that is the basis for the popular Chinese ETF, FXI.

In retrospect, the biggest VIX spike of all was a short-lived phenomenon whose fundamental and technical underpinnings turned out to pose no lasting threats.  As is often the case, traders who faded this move (and keep in mind there were no VIX ETPs available at that time) and bet on mean reversion cleaned up on that trade.

So, did this move in 2007 provide a hint as to what would follow in 2008?  As I see it, the timing was merely a coincidence.

It may not be a coincidence, however, that the biggest VIX spike in history helped to usher in the golden era of VIX spikes, with 15 of the top 22 one-day VIX spikes of all time having occurred during the past decade, as is reflected in the graphic below.  Of course, most of the spike in VIX spike activity was the result of the Great Recession and some of the “disaster imprinting” that followed such a severe shock to many investor psyches.

[source(s): VIX and More]

Some may look around at a VIX that is not too much different now than it was a decade ago and wonder what it might take to trigger another 64% jump in the VIX.  Certainly there is a huge policy uncertainty overhang at the moment, lots of political (and related economic) uncertainty in Europe and there are always some black swans lurking just out of our sightlines.

For now, however, will just have to live with that eerie, unsettling feeling that often accompanies low volatility and wait for another bump in the night before we reassess the volatility landscape.

Further Reading:

For those who may be interested, you can always follow me on Twitter at @VIXandMore

Disclosure(s): none

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The VIX Summit: CBOE RMC (March 8-10 in Dana Point, CA)

I often get asked about where to go to learn more about the VIX and volatility.  Well, if there is one event each year that falls in the absolutely-do-not-miss category, it is the CBOE’s annual Risk Management Conference, which is back in Dana Point, California this year from March 8-10.  It should be noted that while this is the 33rd annual incarnation of this event in the U.S., in the past few years, RMC-Europe (September 11-13, 2017 in Hertfordshire, U.K.) and RMC-Asia (December 5-6, 2017 in Hong Kong) now give VIX aficionados three different opportunities to gather around the globe and immerse themselves in all things volatility.

This year, Ed Thorp is the keynote speaker and as I have yet to hear him speak in person, I am very much looking forward to his talk on “Position Sizing and Relation to Risk Management.”  Another featured speaker is Benjamin Bowler, Global Head of Equity Derivatives Research, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, whose talk is titled, “Post-Central Bank Volatility: More Risk But More Alpha.”  Two of my favorite perennial speakers are back again this year:  Maneesh Deshpande, Managing Director and Global Head of Equity Derivatives Strategy, Barclays is a panelist for “Impact of Flows on Cash and Derivatives Markets: Myths and Realities,” while Rocky Fishman, Equity Derivatives Strategy, Deutsche Bank Securities Inc., is a panelist for “Options Out of This Country.”

Also, Ed Provost, President & Chief Operating Officer, CBOE Holdings, Inc. will be there to kick off the proceedings and if history is any guide, this is when we are most likely to get some insight into any upcoming or recently launched CBOE products.

For more information, check out the full agenda or register here.

While the RMC content is guaranteed to be world class, this is also the greatest gathering of volatility practitioners, academics and other manner of VIXophiles that I am aware of.  In short, if you speak VIX and are looking to find your lost tribe, here they are.  This is why I like to informally refer to the RMC as The VIX Summit.

While the CBOE has provided excellent coverage of this event on Twitter and on the CBOE blog, I will do what I can to pass along real-time and near real-time commentary as well.

I must admit that one of the most interesting conversations I have ever  had on the VIX was at with the creator of the product, Robert Whaley, who regaled me with some interesting stories related to the origin of the VIX at the 2015 CBOE RMC.  I trust this year will deliver some equally compelling memories.

Last but not least, if you see me this year, please stop and say hello.

Further Reading:

For those who may be interested, you can always follow me on Twitter at @VIXandMore

Disclosure(s): the CBOE is an advertiser on VIX and More

Clustering of Volatility Spikes

Last week, my Putting Low Stock Volatility to Good Use (Guest Columnist at Barron’s) triggered a bunch of emails related to the clustering of low volatility.  Most readers expressed an interest in the phenomenon of volatility clusters occurring in both high and low volatility environments and were curious about the differences between high and low volatility clusters.

When it comes to measuring volatility clusters I am of the opinion that realized or historical volatility is a more important measurement than implied volatility measurements, such as is provided by the VIX.  When I think in terms of VIX spikes, I generally focus on two single-day realized volatility thresholds:  a 2% decline in the S&P 500 Index and a 4% decline.

The graphic below is in many respects the inverse of the graphic in Putting Low Stock Volatility to Good Use (Guest Columnist at Barron’s) – and this should come as no surprise.  Simply stated:  while both high volatility and low volatility cluster in the short-term, volatility regimes tend to persist for several years, so it is very rare to see a clustering of high and low volatility in the same years.  This is exactly the principle I laid out more than ten years ago regarding echo volatility in What My Dog Can Tell Us About Volatility.

[source(s):  CBOE, Yahoo, VIX and More]

Note also that in spite of all the talk in the past few years of the potential implosion of the euro zone, a hard landing in China, central banks across the globe creating the seeds of our destruction, increasingly bipartisan politics creating deep divides across the nation, etc., etc. – volatility has been relatively mild during the past 5-6 years.

The interesting thing about volatility regimes is that they eventually transition from low volatility environments to high volatility environments and vice versa and create what I call VIX macro cycles in the process.  The volatility transition phases are some of the most interesting times in the market and can certainly be some of the most profitable.  These inflection points are sure to be a target of some of my future writing on volatility.

So, as VIX and More sails off into its second decade of publication, I vow to flesh out some of my evolving thinking on subjects I have touched upon above (some of which have lain dormant in this space for several years) at the same time I charge off into new areas.  While I will continue to have a laser focus on volatility (particularly its global, multi-asset class aspects), it is time to pay more attention to the “and More” portion of this title of this blog and make a push into new frontiers.  Said another way:  my thinking likes to cluster, but it likes to spike as well.

Finally, most posts tend to touch on one or two key ideas, so I typically put a half dozen or so links below that I refer to as “Related posts.”  Today, it seems as if I have touched briefly on so many subjects that more links (I’m sure today’s is a new record) seem appropriate and instead of referring to these as related posts, they are now officially Further Reading going forward.  Enjoy!

Further Reading:
For those who may be interested, you can always follow me on Twitter at @VIXandMore

Disclosure(s): none

Monday, February 20, 2017

SPX 1, 2 and 3-Year Returns Following Top and Bottom Five (and Ten) VIX Average Annual Readings

On Saturday, I posted Putting Low Stock Volatility to Good Use (Guest Columnist at Barron’s) and used that opportunity to expand upon some of the points I raised in my February 18th column for Barron’s.  Specifically, I addressed the issue of the clustering of low volatility and used a graphic to show that when the VIX closes below 12, it tends to persist in these low readings, clustering for several years, before remaining above 12 for even longer periods during high volatility regimes.  

Another claim I made in the Barron’s article (Putting Low Stock Volatility to Good Use) that I thought might benefit from a little graphical support was my contention:

“VIX data suggests the low volatility provides a foundation for extended bullish moves in stock. Look at the five highest and lowest average annual VIX readings and calculate the performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500 index one, two, and three years after the VIX extremes. After one year, the S&P performance following the low VIX is about 20% higher than after the high VIX. For two years, the difference jumps to 40% and by the third year the cumulative performance differential is approximately 90%. Wariness aside, low volatility begets low volatility and is generally bullish for stocks.”

Now there are two ways to compare percentages and the best way for me to illustrate this is with an example.  If we are comparing 5% with 4% is the 5% value 25% higher than 4% or is it 1% higher?  You can make a case for either comparison, one of which is made with division and is more of a pure percentage calculation, while the other which is made by subtraction and is perhaps best thought of in terms of percentage points.  In the Barron’s article, I used the division/percentage method, which is the norm when comparing numbers that are not percentages in and of themselves.  This time around I will try to minimize confusion and use the subtraction/percentage points approach instead.

In the first of the two graphics below I have calculated the SPX 1-year, 2-year and 3-year returns following the years with the five highest average VIX values (2008, 2009, 2002, 2001 and 1998) with a dashed black line as well as the years with the five lowest average VIX values (1994, 1993, 2006, 2005 and 1994) with a solid double blue line.  In all three time frames, the better returns followed the lower VIX readings and I used a green area series to show the (percentage point) difference.

[source(s):  CBOE, Yahoo, VIX and More]

For comparison purposes, in the second graphic below I have plotted the same SPX 1-year, 2-year and 3-year returns following the years with the ten highest average VIX values as well as the years with the ten lowest average VIX values.  Once again, in all three time frames, the better returns followed the lower VIX readings, though in this instance the performance gap between the lower VIX readings and higher VIX readings is somewhat reduced.

[source(s):  CBOE, Yahoo, VIX and More]

I offer up these graphics because I maintain that there are many skeptics regarding not only the persistent clustering of low VIX readings, but also related to the lack of robust data showing the effect of mean reversion during low volatility regimes.  As I have noted previously, mean reversion is much more predictable and tradeable following a VIX spike than after a significant decline in the VIX.

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Saturday, February 18, 2017

Putting Low Stock Volatility to Good Use (Guest Columnist at Barron’s)

With spring training just getting underway in Florida and Arizona, I think it is appropriate that I once again have an opportunity to pinch hit for Steve Sears in his The Striking Price column for Barron’s.  Today’s column is called Putting Low Stock Volatility to Good Use (my title suggestions always seem to end up on the cutting floor) and builds upon some of the ideas I presented three years ago in Low Volatility:  How to Profit from a Quiet VIX.

If my memory is correct, this is the twentieth time I have been a guest columnist at Barron’s in this fashion and in keeping with tradition, I always try to make the column topical, particularly when there are some aspects of volatility that have investors more perplexed than usual.  Lately, it has been the persistent low VIX readings (including the first sub-10 VIX print in a decade) in conjunction with a new administration and extremely high policy uncertainty that has been difficult for investors to digest.  While I too have dedicated a fair amount of effort to square low volatility with high policy uncertainty, my research related to volatility has made it easier to stick with the trend instead of trying to anticipate a market turn.

Specifically, in the Barron’s article I note:

“Statistically, it turns out that the vaunted mean-reverting aspect of volatility is much more likely to kick in with a high VIX than a low VIX. Similarly, low volatility tends to cluster and persist for extended periods, defying skeptics. Specifically, when the VIX dips below 12 for several months, the historical record shows it can be expected to continue with similar readings for two years or more.”

As Barron’s is not necessarily the best place to try to shoehorn original research into a short column, I thought I could use this space to expand upon some of the points I made.  Specifically related to the clustering of low volatility, the graphic below shows that when the VIX closes below 12, it tends to persist in these low readings, clustering for several years, before remaining above 12 for even longer periods during high volatility regimes. 

[source(s):  CBOE, VIX and More]

A corollary to the above is that while investors often focus a good deal of their VIX analysis on mean reversion, it is important to note that mean reversion is much more predictable and tradeable following a VIX spike than after a significant decline in the VIX.

There are some other interesting statistics and ideas in the Barron’s column that I will address in other posts shortly, not the least of which addresses the performance of the SPX in the years following extreme high and extreme low VIX readings.  Stay tuned.

Finally, since I enjoy being a pinch hitter so much, I thought I might highlight one pinch hitter for every new Barron’s column I write.  This time around I’d like to put the spotlight on Rusty Staub, who just happened to be at the zenith of his pinch-hitting duties when I moved to New York.  In the twilight of his career, the charismatic Rusty tied a National League record in 1983 with eight consecutive pinch hits and also tied the Major League record with 25 RBI from those (24) pinch hits.  Rusty finished his career with exactly 100 pinch hits and is currently 19th on the all-time pinch hit list.  I realize I have a long way to go to get to Rusty’s rarefied air, but 100 pinch hits is something to shoot for.

Related posts:

A full list of my (20) Barron’s contributions:

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