VIX Index Closes Below 10 Again, As Professor Called the VIX Level the Biggest Financial Mystery

On June 1st the CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX®) closed at 9.89. June 1st marked only the 14th day on which the VIX Index closed below 10 (its price history begins in 1990). Six of the 14 days on which the VIX Index closed below 10 occurred in 2017 (see Exhibit 1 below for a list of all 14 dates).

In addition, on June 1st the CBOE SKEW Index closed at 124.55, a relatively high level that indicated strong demand for SPX put options that could help protect against a severe downturn in the stock market.

REMARKS AT CFA ANNUAL CONFERENCE

On May 21 through 24 I listened to several outstanding speakers 70th CFA Institute Annual Conference in Philadelphia. Speakers’ remarks that were among the most interesting and relevant to me were on the topic of the current levels of volatility and the VIX Index. I found the following volatility comments of two speakers particularly intriguing —

  • In a Q&A session on May 21, Richard H. Thaler, the Charles R. Walgreen Distinguished Service Professor of Behavioral Science and Economics at the Booth School of Business, University of Chicago, answered a question on volatility by noting that the current low level of the VIX Index was the biggest [financial] mystery of our time, in light of the fact that we live in a time of great uncertainty, regardless of one’s political views, and whether or not one is supportive of the program of the current U.S. President. Professor Thaler said we face surprises when we read early morning tweets, and that when animals are afraid, they often freeze up.
  • In her prepared remarks on May 24, Abby Joseph Cohen, CFA, Advisory Director and Senior Investment Strategist, Goldman Sachs & Co., noted that realized volatility for major indices sharply declined following Euro-zone worries in late 2011, but realized volatility is now increasing. In answer to a question about concerns for future volatility, Ms. Cohen said she was even more concerned about the potential for future higher bond market volatility when compared to future equity market volatility.

In addition, minutes from the Federal Reserve in early 2017expressed concern that the low level of implied volatility in equity markets appeared inconsistent with the considerable uncertainty attending the outlook for … policy initiatives …”

VIX INDEX VALUES

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) is a measure of market expectations of 30-calendar-day volatility conveyed by S&P 500 Index (SPX) option prices. The VIX White Paper notes that the VIX Index estimates expected volatility by averaging the weighted prices of SPX puts and calls over a wide range of strike prices.  The selected options are out-of-the-money SPX calls and out-of-the-money SPX puts centered around an at-the-money strike price. I recently have heard comments and questions on the topic of why the VIX Index recently has been lower than its long-term average, and I also have been asked if there continues to be interest in hedging of downside risk in stock portfolios. The average of the daily closing values on the VIX Index was 19.7 in the 27 years from 1990 through 2016, but only 11.8 year-to-date in 2017 (through June 1).

EXHIBIT 1 – VIX INDEX CLOSED BELOW 10 ON 14 DATES

EXHIBIT 2 – VIX INDEX SINCE 1990

While some commenters point to macroeconomic factors and Fed policies that could impact the levels of VIX, below are three discussion points (re: skew, historic volatility, and term structure) with charts that help better explain the relatively low level of the VIX Index.

HIGH SKEW AND MORE INTEREST IN HEDGING SEVERE DOWNTURNS

While the VIX Index recently has been below its long-term average, there still has been strong demand for use of stock index options to hedge severe downturns in the stock markets.

So far in 2017, there usually has been a relatively high volatility skew for SPX options, in that the implied volatility for the out-of-the-money (O-T-M) SPX put options usually has been much higher than the implied volatility for the at-the-money (A-T-M) SPX options. Bloomberg’s estimates average 30-trading-day implied volatilities for SPX options in 2017 were (through May 25): (1) about 31.7 for SPX options at 80% moneyness (this implied volatility could apply to SPX protective put options that are 20% out-of-the-money), and (2) about 9.2 for SPX options that are at 100% moneyness (or at-the-money).

EXHIBIT 3 – SPX OPTIONS IMPLIED VOLATILITIES – CHART WITH ESTIMATES FROM CBOE LIVEVOL   

A metric that investors can use to track the relative demand for disaster protection is the CBOE SKEW Index, which is calculated from weighted strips of out-of-the-money S&P 500 options, and rises to higher levels as investors become more fearful of a “black swan” event — an unexpected event of large magnitude and consequence. If there were no tail risk expectations, the SKEW Index would be equal to 100.

EXHIBIT 4 – CBOE SKEW INDEX

The averages of the daily closing values of the SKEW Index were 118.4 in the 27 years from 1990 through 2016, and 134.5 in 2017 (through June 1).

VIX INDEX HAS BEEN HIGHER THAN SPX HISTORIC VOLATILITY

While some people have recently questioned as to how the VIX Index values could be in a “low” range from 9.7 to 12 on most days in the past month, one should note that the historic volatility of the S&P 500 Index recently has been even lower than the VIX. When compared to SPX historic volatility, one could argue that VIX has not necessarily been “low.” The averages of daily closing values in May (through May 30) were 10.9 for the VIX Index, 7.4 for the 30-trading-day historic volatility of the S&P 500 Index, and 4.6 for the TYVIX Index (an index that reflects the expectations of interest rate volatility; in her remarks, Abby Joseph Cohen expressed concern about the possibility for a spike in interest rate volatility).

EXHIBIT 5 – RECENT VOLATILITY SINCE MAY 1ST

 

TERM STRUCTURE – VIX FUTURES PRICES ARE HIGHER THAN VIX SPOT PRICE

For those folks who ask about the “low” level of the VIX Index, one response would be to say that folks are welcome to explore the prices of the tradable VIX futures. As shown in the VIX futures term structure chart below, the quoted prices were 10.59 for the VIX spot index, and the quoted prices for the VIX futures (which are based on the forward values of the VIX Index, and reflect expectations of 30-day volatility at future dates) ranged from 10.90 for the VIX futures expiring on June 7, to 17.40 for the VIX futures expiring on February 14, 2018.

EXHIBIT 6 – VIX TERM STRUCTURE IS IN CONTANGO AND UPWARD-SLOPING

FOUR BENCHMARK INDEXES

For investors who are interested in equity portfolio protection with SPX options at times when price-earnings ratios are relatively high, and the VIX Index is at relatively low levels, four benchmark indexes that could be explored are:

  • CBOE S&P 500 95-110 Collar Index (CLL) – purchases stocks in the S&P 500 index, and each month sells SPX call options at 110% of the index value, and each quarter purchases SPX put options at 95% of the index value. www.cboe.com/CLL
  • CBOE S&P 500 Zero-Cost Put Spread Collar Index (CLLZ) – track the performance of a hypothetical option trading strategy that 1) holds a long position indexed to the S&P 500 Index; 2) on a monthly basis buys a 2.5% – 5% S&P 500 Index (SPX) put option spread; and 3) sells a monthly out-of-the-money (OTM) SPX call option to cover the cost of the put spread. www.cboe.com/CLLZ.
  • CBOE VIX Tail Hedge Index (VXTH) – buys and holds S&P 500 stocks, and also often buys 30-delta call options on the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX). www.cboe.com/VXTH.
  • CBOE S&P 500 5% Put Protection Index (PPUT) – strategy that holds a long position indexed to the S&P 500 Index and buys a monthly 5% out-of-the-money (OTM) S&P 500 Index (SPX) put option as a hedge. www.cboe.com/PPUT.

CONCLUSION

For people who ask me about the VIX Index recently being much lower than its long-term average, I suggest that they look at the following three factors to gain a fuller picture of implied volatility, and the interest in and costs for hedging strategies –

  • The SPX skew and the related SKEW Index have been relatively high in recent years, and there still is strong demand for hedging severe downside risk;
  • The VIX Index generally has been higher than the historic volatility of the S&P 500 Index in 2017 (using this comparison, one could argue that the VIX has not necessarily been “low”); and
  • While the VIX Index was valued at 10.68 on the morning of May 30, the VIX futures term structure chart showed that most tradable VIX futures were priced higher than the VIX spot index.

Weekend Review of Volatility Indexes and ETPs – 5/28/2017

VXST closed Friday at an all-time low of 7.60 which sounds impressive until you hear that for VXST the history we have to work with only goes back to 2011.  I am going to make a bold prediction and say that VXST will move higher when the market reopens on Tuesday.  Read that as sarcasm as VXST has never followed a three-day weekend without moving higher.

VXST VIX VXV VXMT 526

After having a short period of upward movement, the VIX related funds gave back performance and then some last week.  The short funds resumed the stellar performance of 2017 with VMIN leading the pack by gaining over 10% on the week.  I find it interesting that SKEW, which often benefits from low VIX is not testing the 150’s.  I guess no one needs to mitigate tail risk going into the summer.

VXX Table 526

For 2017 UVXY is now down 75% while SVXY is up a little less than 70%.  There is always a divergence between the leveraged long and short VIX related ETPs, but this divergence is only 5 months into the year.  I may have to conduct a mid-year reset on June 30th.

VXX SVXY UVXY 526

The British Pound was the bright spot for the volatility space this past week, along with AMZN and GOOG.  Oil option volatility was also a bit higher, but otherwise implied volatility was mostly lower.

Vol Indexes 526

On Wednesday May 17th VIX had a short-lived day in the sun and VXX was right there sharing the spotlight.  We all know everything in the markets returned to what has been normal in 2017, but at the time VXX had run to 16.10 from 13.60 in a single day.  As that day came to an end a trader put on what now looks like a pretty smart bear put spread.

With VXX at 16.10 there was a buyer of the VXX May 26th 16 Puts for 0.84 who then sold the VXX May 26th 15 Puts for 0.31 paying 0.53 for a trade that needed VXX to finish this past week below 15.00.  We all know that is how things turned out and if the trader held on through this past Friday they scored a profit of 0.47 based on the payoff diagram below.

VXX PO 526

Weekend Review of VIX Futures and Options – 5/28/2017

VIX finished the week at 9.81, just a tad above the post 2008 lows put in earlier this month.  The June 2017 VIX cycle is five weeks long so there’s still plenty of time until June 21st expiration.  The result is one of the steepest curves a can recall in the six years of posting these weekend blogs.

VIX TS Table 5262017

Friday, about an hour into the trading day, there was an interesting bull put spread executed in the VIX pit.  With VIX at 9.80 and the June 7th VIX Future at 10.80 someone sold the VIX Jun 7th 11.50 Puts for 1.11 and the purchased the VIX Jun 7th 9.50 Puts for 0.05 taking in a credit of 1.06.  If held to June 7thexpiration the trade makes money as long as settlement comes in above 10.44.

VIX PO Corrected

This trade risks 0.94 to make 1.06 with the maximum potential loss coming if June 7th VIX AM settlement comes in below 9.50.  For me, the result here is a great example of how VIX Weeklys options can be used and how traders can take advantage of what they make believe is VIX at unsustainably low levels.

Weekend Review of VIX Futures and Options – 5/21/2017

The term structure and payoff below does not do any justice to what those of us that focus on VIX and related markets this past week.  In fact, when the dust settled, all the standard futures were hardly changed on the week.

VIX Quotes Table 519

Just to record what did happen last week I made a second term structure chart that includes the close on Wednesday in addition to the Friday closing curves.

VIX TS Fri Wed Fri

As Wednesday was one of the biggest moves for VIX to the upside in several months, there were a few brave traders that chose to take the other side of the move.  Just minutes before the very busy day came to an end there was a trader that sold about 5,000 VIX Jun 12.50 Calls for 2.37 who purchased the VIX Jun 19.00 Calls at 0.93 for a net credit of 1.44.  The payout below shows how this trade works out if held to expiration along with where VIX and the June VIX futures finished the day on Wednesday.

VIX PO 519

The June futures were at 14.25 and VIX at 15.59 to finish up Wednesday.  However, as we know, when the week came to an end both were much lower.  So far so good on this one.

Weekend Review – Volatility Indexes and ETPs – 5/21/2017

The week over week VXST – VIX – VXV – VXMT curve moved higher and appears to have done so in a very parallel fashion.  Since the week over week change doesn’t do the actual activity justice so I added the Wednesday closing curve to the graphic below.

VXST VIX VXV VXMT 5192017

I was honestly a little surprised at how little the S&P 500 dropped on a week over week basis and double checked the number.  I made a joking prediction Thursday morning that we would retrace the Trump Dump from Wednesday with in a week, that prediction is one good day early next week from being correct.  The long volatility ETPs did well and the short funds gave up some of the ground gained this year, but still hold a solid lead as the next chart will show.

VXX Table 519

VXX and UVXY got nice bumps in the middle of the week and SVXY got hit.  All fund changed course on Thursday and Friday, but not enough to result in a losing week for the long funds.

VXX SVXY UVXY 519

The Brazilian equity market came under pressure last week and the result was a huge move in VXEWZ.  Also, currency volatility was much higher across the board.

VIX and VVIX Indexes Both Jump More Than 45% on Wednesday, with Strong Trading Volumes

MAY 17, 2017 – Today both the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) and the CBOE VIX of VIX Index (VVIX) rose more than 45%. Some U.S. news developments that impacted the financial markets today concerned the former FBI director James Comey and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

TABLES WITH BIGGEST ONE-DAY MOVES

Today’s 46.4% move in the VIX Index was (in percentage terms) it sixth biggest move ever and its biggest one-day move (in percentage terms) since the Brexit vote.

Nine days ago (on May 8) the VIX Index closed at 9.77, its lowest daily closing value since 1993.

Today the CBOE VIX of VIX Index (VVIX) rose 34.72 points (or 45.2%) – its second biggest up moves both in terms of points and percentages. The VVIX Index is an indicator of the expected volatility of the 30-day forward price of the VIX. This volatility drives nearby VIX option prices. The VVIX table below shows the days with the biggest up and down moves.

Today more than six other volatility indexes (including VXST, VXGS, JYVIX, VXAZN, VXV, and VXAPL) rose more than 20%.

3-MONTH PRICE CHARTS

The 3-month price charts from Livevol below show the big upward moves on May 17 for both the VIX and VVIX indexes.

VIX FUTURES PRICES

The VIX Futures Prices table below shows that at 4:30 pm CT on May 17 (which actually was part of the May 18 trading day) the VIX futures prices ranged from 14.20 to 17.75.

HIGH TRADING VOLUMES ON MAY 17

  • The trading volume at the all-electronic C2 Options Exchange, Incorporated (C2) set a one-day trading record with reported trading volume of 966,604 contracts, surpassing a previous single-day record of 825,299 contracts set on November 9, 2016.
  • Trading volume on Bats’ two options exchanges, BZX and EDGX, also each had their second-busiest single trading days ever, with BZX trading a reported 3.9 million contracts and EDGX trading a reported 317,250 contracts. Bats is a CBOE Holdings company.
  • Trading volume at Chicago Board Options Exchange, Incorporated (CBOE) was a reported 7.6 million contracts, and combined reported trading volume at CBOE Holdings’ four options exchanges totaled nearly 13 million contracts on Wednesday.
  • In addition, CBOE Futures Exchange, LLC (CFE) today set its third-highest trading volume day with a reported 735,161 contracts. The flagship product of the CFE is VIX futures.

MORE INFORMATION

Visit www.cboe.com/volatility for more information about how to use volatility indexes and VIX futures and options.

Weekend Review – VIX Options and Futures – 5/14/2017

VIX was slightly lower on the week despite the S&P 500 dropping as well.  The near dated futures worked lower with May finishing Friday at premium of just over 0.80 as that contract goes off the board this coming week.  From August and beyond the futures were actually higher which creates a pretty steep curve below.

VIX Table TS 5122017

On Tuesday, we got what I am going to refer to as a MOAVCS (Mother of all VIX Call Spreads).  Near the end of the day a trader came in and purchased at least 195,000 VIX Jun 30 Calls for 0.13 and sold the same number of VIX Jun 35 Calls at 0.07 for a net cost of 0.06.  All this happened when the June VIX future price was at 12.40.

VIX PO 5122017

Since there’s some time until June expiration I decided to include the half way to expiration payoff for this vertical spread.  Note that as the June VIX future price moves higher, the spread actually starts to show and unrealized profit.  In fact, it appears that a move to 20.00 would turn this trade into an unrealized profit.

Weekend Review of Volatility Indexes and ETPs – 5/14/2017

This time last week we were all pretty certain that the final round of the French election was a done deal.  Short term SPX implied volatility wasn’t taking any chances with VXST closing last Friday at 11.40.  With the election outcome going as expected VXST got a little crushed and the shape of the VXST – VIX – VXV – VXMT curve moved back to contango.

VXST VIX VXV VXMT 5122017

Both the S&P 500 and VIX dropped last week, as the number of potential stock market land mines over the next few weeks (that we can see coming) is limited.  VVIX inched up a bit as some traders took advantage of low VIX option IV to get long volatility exposure.  SKEW moved lower which is interesting with VIX so close to 10.00.  It may just be that no one is worried about a black swan any times soon, which of course by definition is when they happen.  A glimmer of hope for the longer term VIX bulls shows up in the performance of VXZ which is based on owning a basket of August, September, October, and November VIX futures contracts.

VXX Table 5122017

Of great interest on the table below is the move higher in both VXAPL and VXIBM.  Apparently, Warren Buffett has been adding to his AAPL position and scaling back his IBM holdings which may have sparked option trading after last weekend’s Berkshire get together in Omaha.  Apparently the call buying was aggressive enough in the AAPL arena that the skew for AAPL options was higher on the call side than the put side to start last week.  VXMT moved higher, which mirrors the move in VXZ above, which may make one wonder if the market is focusing on the fourth quarter of 2017 as the latest at which we will expect lower stock prices.

Vol Index Prices 5122017

 

For the mean time, long volatility continues to take it on the chin as both VXX and UVXY moved lower.  SVXY benefits from what is bad for the long funds and now is up almost 70% for 2017.

VXX UVXY SVXY Comp 5122017

I went searching the ETP option world for a very bullish trade to discuss this weekend.  When things are so quiet as represented by VIX, but at the same time there seem to be multiple geopolitical situations that could erupt at any moment some traders will be looking for a cheap method to be on the right side of a volatility spike.  UVXY call options are a great place to find such a trade and I didn’t have to look to hard to find a good one.

UVXY PO 5122017

On Friday afternoon with UVXY around 12.55 a trader purchased the UVXY Jun 9th 12.50 Calls for 1.26 and then sold the UVXY Jun 9th 21.00 Calls at 0.31 for a net cost of 0.95.  The payoff at Jun 9th expiration shows up below, although a quick volatility event would probably result in our trader monetizing some profits.

2017 Volume Rises for VIX and SPX Options, and for VIX Futures

Monday, May 8, 2017 – After the results of the French election were announced yesterday, this was a notable day in the options and volatility markets –

  • The CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX®) fell 0.80 points and closed at 9.77 (it lowest daily close since December 1993);
  • Bloomberg’s estimate of 30-trading day historic volatility for the S&P 500 Index fell to 6.52;
  • The CBOE SKEW Index (SKEW) fell 3.24 points to close at 128.12 (still well above its long-term-average of 118.6)

Today I received multiple questions from customers about press coverage of options volume trends. While many observers believe that low volatility often can inhibit options volume growth, some investors like the idea of purchasing relatively “cheap” options protection when the VIX Index is well below its long-term average.

TRENDS IN VOLUME AND OPEN INTEREST FOR KEY INDEX OPTIONS AND FUTURES

VIX futures average daily volume rose to 265, 954 in Jan.-April 2017, and it is up for the 11th year in a row.

VIX options average daily volume rose to 712,490 in Jan.-April 2017.

In March 2017 the VIX options open interest rose to more than 12.8 million contracts.

In March 2017 the VIX call options open interest rose to more than 9 million contracts.

SPX options average daily volume rose to 1,161936 in Jan.-April 2017.

MORE INFORMATION

To learn more about use of SPX and VIX options, and VIX futures, please visit www.cboe.com/SPX and www.cboe.com/VIX.

 

Weekend Review of VIX Options and Futures – 5/7/2017

VIX managed to (briefly) put in a post Great Financial Crisis low hitting 9.90 on Monday and sneaking in a 9.99 low on Friday as well.  Full disclosure, I didn’t even see the 9.99 print on Friday, but then again, we are getting conditioned against getting too excited when VIX dips below 10.  Worth noting below is the bigger drop in the May future when compared to spot VIX.  Typically, we see this closer to expiration, but when there’s very little on the horizon that the markets are worried about the curve will flatten and that’s the environment we are experiencing.

VIX Table Chart 05052017

Two weeks ago, the world was fixated on what was going to happen in the French election.  As a reminder, the second round is this weekend.  However, the markets aren’t terribly concerned about the potential outcome on Sunday and the VSTOXX curve is indicating the expectation for a quick drop in VSTOXX on Monday as the May future is at a 2 point discount to  the spot index.

VSTOXX Curve 05052017

This weekend’s highlighted trade was executed over the course of the day on Friday in several mid-sized chunks.  There was a buyer of the VIX Jun 21st 12.50 Calls who sold the same number of VIX Jun 21st19.00 Calls.  The individual option prices varied, but the majority of these spreads were executed at a cost of 0.87.  The trader gets some long volatility exposure between now and the longest day of the year.  The payoff diagram below shows the outcome at expiration and with 21 days to expiration or the midpoint on the calendar between Friday and expiration.

VIX Payoff 05052017

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