Ten Years Since the Biggest VIX Spike Ever

Ten years ago today, we witnessed that largest one-day VIX spikein 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
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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 33rdannual 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 Continue reading "The VIX Summit: CBOE RMC (March 8-10 in Dana Point, CA)"

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

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 Searsin 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)
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The 2016 VIX Futures Term Structure: Extraordinarily Average

Two days ago, in The Year in VIX and Volatility (2016), I made no mention whatsoever of the VIX futuresterm structure.  Traders of the full range of VIX products (futures, options and ETPs) hopefully know by now that the entire VIX product landscape is based -- and priced -- off of VIX futures and one of the most important aspects of VIX futures is the shape of the term structure.

Long story short:  as the graphic below shows, the 2016 VIX futures term structure (double red line) was closer to its historical average (wide gray line) than any prior year since the launch of VIX futures in 2004, with the average term structure over the course of the year demonstrating a relatively modest upward sloping term structure, also known as contango.


[source(s) CBOE, VIX and More]

By way of explanation, the graphic above shows the average (mean)
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The Year in VIX and Volatility (2016)

The consensus called for a big uptick in volatility in 2016 and while there was a lot of drama, the VIX spikeswere relatively manageable and short-lived.  The VIX opened the year at 22.48 and ended the year at just 14.04.  For the full year, the median VIX was 14.31, while SPX historical volatility for the full year ended up at a mere 13.12.

That being said, there were five distinct VIX spikes in the graphic below, listed according to chronology:
  • Fears related to slowing growth in China (January)
  • A plunge in crude oil prices to $26.05/bbl. for WTIC, as investors grappled with the possibility that Cushing storage facilities would be exhausted (February)
  • The surprise Brexit vote result in favor of the U.K. leaving the E.U. (June)
  • A cocktail of nearly simultaneous shocks from Fed President Rosengren (suddenly sounding hawkish), Jeff
    Continue reading "The Year in VIX and Volatility (2016)"

My Low Volatility Prediction for 2016: Both Idiocy and Genius

A year ago, Steve Sears of Barron’sasked me to pen a guest column for The Striking Price and use the opportunity to opine on how I saw the volatility landscape unfolding in 2016.  Without thinking about it too much, I was fairly certain I was going to devote the column to the many threats that had the potential to spiral out of control during the course of the year, but before I had an opportunity to start translating my thoughts into writing, other pundits started weighing in with their predictions for 2016 and without exception, everyone who ventured a guess on the direction of volatility was adamant that volatility would be substantially higher in 2016 than 2015.

Not wanting to follow the herd and always on the lookout for a more provocative point of view, I decided to fade the consensus, rip up the script in my head
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Post-Election Risk Trending Up in Treasuries and the Euro, Down in U.S. Stocks

You can always tell when the crowd gets long the VIX and ends up on the wrong side of the trade.  “The VIX is broken!” becomes an oft-repeated refrain, as does “The markets are rigged!” and the usual list of exhortations from those who are in denial.  The current line of thinking is that the world must be much more dangerous, risky and uncertain as a result of a Trump victory, yet the VIX is actually down 31.4% since the election – ipso facto the VIX is broken.

While I have more than a small soft spot in my heart for the VIX, I will be the first to point that taking an Americentric, equity-centric view of the investment landscape is dangerous and naïve.  More often than not, the issues that end up having a strong influence on the VIX are born on foreign
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Top VIX Crushes in History

Yesterday’s sharp downward move in the VIX gave me a reason to tweet that the volatility crush as seen in the SPX and VIX was among the top 25 in history.  Upward pressure on the VIX toward the end of the session dropped the VIX down to the 30th largest VIX decline in history, but along the way the Twitterati raised a number of questions about volatility crushes and the VIX as a measurement tool of broad market volatility crushes.

Since I have never seen any data related to the VIX and volatility crushes before, I thought this might be an opportunity to present some of my data and talk about the findings.  In the chart below, I have captured the 25 largest one-day declines in the VIX since 1990 and have presented data showing the forward performance of the SPX in periods from one to 100
Continue reading "Top VIX Crushes in History"

Top VIX Crushes in History

Yesterday’s sharp downward move in the VIX gave me a reason to tweet that the volatility crush as seen in the SPX and VIX was among the top 25 in history.  Upward pressure on the VIX toward the end of the session dropped the VIX down to the 30th largest VIX decline in history, but along the way the Twitterati raised a number of questions about volatility crushes and the VIX as a measurement tool of broad market volatility crushes.

Since I have never seen any data related to the VIX and volatility crushes before, I thought this might be an opportunity to present some of my data and talk about the findings.  In the chart below, I have captured the 25 largest one-day declines in the VIX since 1990 and have presented data showing the forward performance of the SPX in periods from one to 100
Continue reading "Top VIX Crushes in History"

VIX Sets New Record with Nine Up Days in a Row

Over the course of the past few days I have been tracking the slow grind upward in the VIX on Twitter, noting that it had been up seven, eight and eventually nine (as of Friday) days in a row.  As the VIX is a mean reverting animal, I find it interesting that until Friday, the VIX had never risen for nine consecutive days in 27 years of VIX data.  Perhaps even more interesting, during the same period, the VIX had fallen nine days in a row on nine separate instances and even managed to fall ten days in a row on three occasions.  For those who may be wondering, this is yet another data point supporting the idea that VIX mean reversion is more robust following a sharp VIX spike than a sharp VIX decline.

Whenever the VIX makes an unusual move, I am bombarded by
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How to Play a Volatility Spike (Guest Columnist at Barron’s)

Yesterday, I was pleased to once again have an opportunity to pen a guest column for Barron’s, pinch hitting for Steve Sears in his The Striking Price column with How to Play a Volatility Spike.  If my math is correct, this is the nineteenth time I have been a guest columnist in this fashion.  I always try to keep my subject matter linked to current events, but the irony is that when the signal comes to grab my bat and make my way to the on-deck circle, invariably the markets are hit with a bout of volatility.  The result is that as a “volatility guy” I often end up talking about what to do in an environment of elevated volatility, as was the case in Seizing Opportunity from Stock Market Volatility, Be Greedy While Others Are Fearful, Calm Down and Exploit Others’ Anxieties and
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VIX Median Reversion and Five-Year Moving Averages

When people talk about the VIX you often hear them refer to mean reversion, which refers to the tendency of the VIX to be pulled inexorably in the direction of its long-term mean.  With 27 years of data from the CBOE (including some historically reconstructed data), it is possible to calculate the lifetime VIX mean, which happens to be 19.71 at the present.

As an options trader, however, I am wary of giving too much weight to outliers when it comes to predicting the most likely outcome in another options expiration cycle or two.  For this reason, I am more interested in knowing the lifetime VIX median, which is only 17.84.  The median is the 50th percentile while the mean just happens to be in the 60th percentile.  The discrepancy is due to the fact that VIX values are not normally
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Economic Data Surprise Index Shows Continued Weakness

Today we get another glimpse into the behind-the-scenes machinations of the “data dependent” Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) with the release of the minutes from the April 26-27 meeting.

While the Fed has a dual mandate of maximum employment and price stability, lately there has been considerable discussion about the how much the Fed should let global considerations factor into Fed policy.  Clearly, the pace of economic growth in China or the stability of euro zone has a significant downstream effect on economic activity in the United States.  Additionally, with 48% of revenues from the S&P 500 companies coming from international markets, policy formulation in an increasingly interconnected global economy is becoming more complicated with each advance in technology, communications and logistics.

Given this backdrop, just how does the data look?  For the past seven years I have been publishing an economic data surprise index
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Updated VIX ETP Landscape, Including VMAX and VMIN

Now that the recently launched REX VolMAXX Long VIX Weekly Futures Strategy ETF (VMAX) and REX VolMAXX Inverse VIX Weekly Futures Strategy ETF (VMIN) VIX exchange-traded products have started to achieve critical mass, I thought it would be a good time to update my VIX ETP landscape chart.

In the graphic below, I have plotted all of the VIX ETPs with respect to their target maturity (X-axis) and leverage (Y-axis). 


[source(s):  VIX and More]

The most interesting change in this chart is the addition of VMAX and VMIN, which are on track to trade over 100,000 as a pair today for the first time since their launch two weeks ago.  In deciding where to plot these two issues, I note that the 10-day historical volatility of VMAX and VMIN is approximately 30% higher than their more popular competitors, VXX and XIV.  As VMAX Continue reading "Updated VIX ETP Landscape, Including VMAX and VMIN"

VMAX and VMIN Poised to Be Most Important VIX ETP Launch in Years

REX Shares is launching two new VIX exchange-traded products on Tuesday in what is likely to be the most important VIX ETP launch in several years.  The REX VolMAXX Long VIX Weekly Futures Strategy ETF (VMAX) is the long volatility product, while the REX VolMAXX Inverse VIX Weekly Futures Strategy ETF (VMIN) is the short volatility sibling.

The launch of these two products comes at a time when the VIX ETP space had become stale and had frustrated investors who have sought out products for both long and short volatility strategies when Every Single VIX ETP (Long and Short) Lost Money in 2015.

After a flurry of innovation in the VIX ETP space from 2009 to 2011, new product offerings have slowed to a trickle over the course of the past few years, with only the mystifying AccuShares VXUP and VXDN products making it out Continue reading "VMAX and VMIN Poised to Be Most Important VIX ETP Launch in Years"