Wednesday, May 18, 2016

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 that aggregates U.S. economic data relative to consensus expectations across areas such as employment, the consumer, housing/construction, manufacturing and inflation.  The chart below aggregates data across all these areas and shows data peaking relative to expectations during October 2014.  Since that peak, however, economic data relative to expectations deteriorated sharply, falling to an all-time low during the middle of January 2016 that was matched again at the end of last month. 

[source(s):  VIX and More]

If the Fed is indeed data dependent, then there is no avoiding the conclusion that aggregate data relative to expectations has been a disaster for the past 1 ½ months.  There are some signs of stability forming in the current environment and clearly the strength of the dollar and the price of crude oil will have a great deal to say about economic data going forward.  Then again, international events such as the Brexit vote and the evolution of negative interest rate policies of central banks across the globe may trump all domestic U.S. economic data.

[Readers who are interested in more information on the component data included in this graphic and the methodology used are encouraged to check out the links below. For those seeking more details on the specific economic data releases which are part of my aggregate data calculations, check out Chart of the Week: The Year in Economic Data (2010).]

Related posts:

Disclosure(s): none

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

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 and VMIN are actively managed and do not have a fixed target maturity, I am electing to assume that based on the early history, the target maturity is in the 2-3 week range.  Additionally, while there is no leverage being used in the traditional sense, as is the case with UVXY, TVIX and TVIZ, so far the use of VIX weekly futures in addition to the standard monthly VIX futures means that VMAX and VMIN have a higher beta than VXX and XIV.  For this reason, I have also plotted VMAX and VMIN as having slightly higher "leverage" than the group of VIX ETPs that have a target maturity of thirty days, such as VXX, XIV, etc.

Frankly, I am a little surprised that VMAX and VMIN have not attracted more interest in the trading community, as these products have features that should be very attractive to short-term traders.  For now, the bid ask-spreads are typically in the 0.05 – 0.10 range, but as these tighten up, I expect volume and trading interest will ramp up quickly.

One necrology housekeeping note of interest:  Citibank has decided to redeem early its C-Tracks Exchange-Traded Notes Based on the Citi Volatility Index Total Return (CVOL).  The last day of trading for CVOL will be May 23, 2016, with cash payments to be made to investors on May 24, 2016.  The diagonal “X” through the ticker symbol in the chart indicates that this is the last time CVOL will appear on this graphic.

Finally, when one is trading VIX ETPs, it is always essential to consider the degree of contango (or backwardation) in the VIX futures, which can translate into substantial negative roll yield.  For the record, the current month is on track to have the third largest average negative roll yield for the month in the thirteen-year history of the VIX futures.  For those who may be interested, the top two months in terms of extreme negative roll yield were March 2012 and July 2004.

Related posts:

Disclosure(s): net short VXX, VMAX, UVXY, TVIX and TVIZ; net long XIV, VMIN and ZIV at time of writing

[source(s):  VIX and More]

Monday, May 2, 2016

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 of the gate last year in a highly-anticipated May 18th launch that pivoted quickly from excitement to befuddlement, as investors were overwhelmed by the complexities associated with the seemingly endless flow of regular distributions, special distributions and corrective distributions.

VIX aficionados know that 2015 was also notable in that it marked the launch by the CBOE of VIX weekly futures on July 23rd and VIX weekly options on October 8th.  Both product launches were successful and it was just a matter of time before the new VIX weekly futures provided the foundation for a VIX ETP that was based on those futures.  While details are sketchy regarding VMAX and VMIN, they will be holding VIX weekly futures and will target a weighted-average VIX futures maturity that is less than thirty days.  These ETFs will be actively managed and it is likely that they will not have a fixed target maturity.  Theoretically, the target maturity could vary anywhere from five days to 29 days, though given the holdings and the “max” and “min” embedded in the ticker symbol, I would anticipate an aggressive target maturity on the order of 7-14 calendar days.

Whatever the target maturity, VMAX will be competing with VXX right from the outset, while VMIN will find itself up against the likes of XIV.  The competition trades approximately 100 million shares each day and is certainly vulnerable to new products that have a higher beta and should more closely track the spot/cash VIX on a daily basis.  Depending upon the target maturity of VMAX and VMIN, I would not be surprised if these products have 50% more beta than VXX and XIV.  For this reason, I would be shocked if, at the very minimum, VMAX and VMIN do not become darlings of the day-trading crowd – a forecast not unlike the one I made on November 14, 2008 in Prediction: Direxion Triple ETFs Will Revolutionize Day Trading.

Frankly, this space has been relatively inactive as of late and with VMAX and VMIN, I now have the perfect opportunity to dust off the cobwebs and spit out the analysis and opinions that once came in such machine-gun rapidity that readers came up some far-reaching possible explanations for why I was so prolific.

So…consider me back.  I’m rested, hungry and ready for some new – and old – subjects to tackle.

I’ve even managed to dig deep into the archives so that readers can easily refer to some of my musings on issues related to the above subjects.

Related posts:

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

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Playing Volatile Oil Prices (Guest Columnist at Barron’s)

Today I penned my eighteenth guest column for Barron’s, filling in for Steve Sears and the venerable The Striking Price options column.  Looking back, I was surprised to see that this is the eighth year I have been contributing to Barron’s and while I have generally tilted in the direction of volatility topics during this period, I always like to keep my thoughts topical, but with an unusual twist or two.

In Playing Volatile Oil Prices:  The ins and outs of the backspread trade, I tackled the recent huge moves in crude oil prices, touched upon some of the fundamental and technical influences on the price of crude and used the current environment of chaos following a huge short squeeze as a backdrop to talk about the opportunities associated with a call backspread.

As Barron’s prefers to structure trade ideas around ETPs or single stocks, I elected to use the popular U.S. Oil Fund (USO) ETP as my underlying, though I also like the idea of call backspreads in oil and gas exploration and production (XOP) or Russia (RSX), though the Russia ETP has limited liquidity.  As an aside, readers of this blog will surely know that the prices of futures-based ETPs such as USO and VXX, among others, are strongly influenced by the roll yield associated with the shape of the futures curve.  For this reason, USO acts most like West Texas Intermediate crude oil in the short-term, but over longer periods the price of USO is more strongly affected by the term structure of crude oil futures, similar to the issues associated with VXX and the VIX.

While the Barron’s column discusses the rationale for the trade and some of the details surrounding it, I thought I would post a profit and loss graphic for the USO April 1x2 10.5/11.5 call backspread here as a companion to the Barron’s material.

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

I am sure this particular call backspread trade idea is not for everyone, yet I think it is important for everyone to internalize backspreads, their P&L chart and some of the tweaks that can be made.  For instance, one can dramatically change probabilities and payoffs by modifying strikes (including making use of in-the-money strikes, for instance) and expirations, whereas the credit or debit for entering the trade is something that can be strongly influenced by adjusting the ratios to the likes of 2x3, 4x5, etc.

Also of note, readers who are new to backspreads may wish to brush up on bear call spreads (and bull put spreads) before tackling backspreads, as I like to think of backspreads as short vertical spreads that are supplemented by the purchase an extra out-of-the-money option in the time-honored tradition of swinging for the fences with some of the profits from a spread trade.

As I concluded in the column, “In the options world, there are very few trades where you can make money should the underlying shares move sharply in either direction. Backspreads are intriguing in that they have limited risk, unlimited reward (in one direction), and can make money if the underlying moves either up or down.”

Related posts:

A full list of my (18) Barron’s contributions:

Disclosure(s): long XOP and short VXX at time of writing; Livevol and CBOE are advertisers on VIX and More

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Year in VIX and Volatility (2015)

Every year one of my most-read posts is my annotated overview of the year in VIX and volatility.  Now that I have been doing this for the past eight years, the aggregated view of volatility from 2008 to the present makes for a fascinating concise history not just of volatility, but more broadly of the financial markets and of economic activity in general.

The graphic below captures most of the highlights from 2015 and from a volatility perspective, it was a year for the record books.  During August we saw the largest one-week VIX spike (+113%) that resulted from unprecedented back-to-back days of VIX spikes of more than 45%!  The cumulative jump in the VIX pushed the VIX to a high of 53.29 – the only time outside of the 2008-09 financial crisis since the launch of the VIX in 1993 that the VIX has topped 50.

[source(s): VIX and More]

While most investors pointed to China as the proximate cause of the record VIX spike(s), a VIX and More fear poll one week after the big VIX spike also highlighted “market structural integrity (HFT, flash crash, exchange issues, etc.)” as almost on par with China concerns, with “market technical factors (breach of support, end of trend, etc.)” not that far behind.

The balance of the year saw a wide variety of events that moved the markets, including the Fed’s first rate hike in nine years; crude oil plummeting to $34/bbl.; shock waves in the high-yield bond market due to low oil prices; chilling terrorist attacks in Paris and in California; Puerto Rico announcing it will default on some of its debt; turmoil in the currency markets when the Swiss National Bank ended the peg of the Swiss franc to the euro; a dramatic boom-bust cycle in Chinese A-shares – and a flurry of ineffective interventions on the part of the Chinese government to restore stability; a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran in Yemen; and the European Central Bank committing to $1.2 trillion of quantitative easing.

As noted previously, even with all of the volatility, Every Single VIX ETP (Long and Short) Lost Money in 2015.

Finally, since 2011, I have been maintaining a proprietary Macro Risk Index that measures volatility and risk across a broad range of asset classes, including U.S. equities, foreign equities, commodities, currencies and bonds.  In 2015, the Macro Risk Index was consistently higher than it has been during any year since the 2011 inception.

What does high volatility in 2015 mean for 2016?  During the past two weeks, Barron’s published two opposing (but not necessarily inconsistent) perspectives on volatility in 2016.  For the case for rising volatility and what to do about it, try Jared Woodard’s Prepare for Rising Volatility in 2016.  I provide the contrarian point of view in The Case Against High Stock-Market Volatility in 2016.

Related posts:

Disclosure(s): net short VIX at time of writing

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Every Single VIX ETP (Long and Short) Lost Money in 2015

Just one month ago, in The Current VIX ETP Landscape, I plotted all twenty-four VIX exchange-traded products with respect to leverage and maturity, using leverage on the Y-axis and maturity on the X-axis.  I also included a half dozen VIX strategy ETPs that have no easily discernable point on the leverage-maturity grid.  Depending on how finely you wish to split hairs, these twenty-four ETPs cover approximately seventeen unique ways to trade volatility long and short, across various maturities and according to a wide variety of strategic approaches. 

The big story is that in 2015, not one of those VIX ETPs was profitable.  In fact, the mean VIX ETP lost over 21% for the year.  This means that in those instances where there are long and inverse pairs – notably VXX and XIV as well as VXZ and ZIV – both the long and short version of the same volatility trading idea lost money.

This all happened in a year in which the VIX fell a mere 5.2% from the beginning to the end of the year.  While contango was a factor during the course of the year, contango affecting the front month and second month VIX futures averaged a relatively mild 4.3% per month during the year, while contango between the fourth month and seventh month was slightly above average at 1.6% per month.

The biggest culprit affecting the declines were the huge moves in volatility, with three one-day VIX spikes of greater than 30% occurring in the space of two months.  The large volatility spikes had a considerable impact on end-of-day rebalancing, leading to volatility compounding price decay.

One last technical note, with respect to the AccuShares VXUP and VXDN products, I have yet to see AccuShares or anyone else attempt to calculate the performance of these products for 2015.  Given the chaos created by regular, special and corrective distributions, in addition to reverse splits and stock dividends, calculating performance for these two ETPs is not a project I have the inclination to tackle right now.  That being said, until I see the calculations, I cannot be 100% sure that VXUP had a losing year in 2015.  Consequently, in the event that VXUP did post a gain, this would be a good time for AccuShares to post some performance data and claim at least one public relations victory in this space.

To the broader audience, if you happen to be sitting on an idea for a VIX or volatility-based ETP that would have been a winner in 2015, this is an interesting time to consider moving forward with that idea.

Looking ahead, I will have a lot more to say about VIX ETP strategies, VIX ETP performance and related subject going forward.

[source(s): VIX and More]

Related posts:

Disclosure(s): net short VXX and VIX; net long XIV and ZIV at time of writing

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Case Against High Stock-Market Volatility in 2016 (Guest Columnist at Barron’s)

About a month ago, when Steve Sears and Barron’s asked if I would be interested in writing the first The Striking Price of 2016 and share my perspective on what to expect in terms of volatility for 2016, I jumped at the chance.  I quickly made a list of more than two dozen reasons why I felt volatility is likely to rise in 2016 relative to 2015 levels and began to outline the case for why investors should be cautious about the financial markets in 2016.

Since then, every pundit has unveiled their 2016 crystal ball and almost without exception, the consensus is for a significant rise in volatility in the coming year.  While I certainly understand the rationale behind these calls for an increase in volatility in 2016, I can add little value to the dialogue by rubber-stamping the consensus opinion.  In fact, I am probably better off just pointing you to last week’s The Striking Price column, where former colleague Jared Woodard channels some of the more compelling of my two dozen plus higher volatility ideas in Prepare for Rising Volatility in 2016.

So, given that I hate overcrowded consensus trades, strongly believe that volatility is extremely hard to predict and am intimately familiar with data that shows market participants have a habit of overestimating future volatility in stocks, I decided that today’s Barron’s column should be The Case Against High Stock-Market Volatility in 2016.

Today’s column draws on a good deal of research and analysis I have present here in the past and also touches upon themes from some previous Barron’s columns.

Of course, one should take all of this volatility prediction stuff with a grain of salt, as back in May 2010 in Barron’s I was critical of the art and science of predicting volatility in The Perils of Predicting Volatility.

Related posts:

A full list of my (17) Barron’s contributions:

Disclosure(s): none

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Enhancing Performance with Low Volatility ETPs

One theme that I will spend more time on in 2016 and beyond is the low volatility anomaly, which has been discussed in considerable detail in the academic world, leading to papers such as the following:

In a nutshell, the research supports the claim that low volatility and low beta stocks in the United States and across the globe outperform high volatility and high beta stocks, with low volatility stocks generating substantially higher risk-adjusted returns.

Not coincidentally, the groundswell of research pointing to outperformance by low volatility stocks has created a land rush for low volatility ETPs in the first generation of “smart beta” or factor-based investment products in ETP wrappers.  Since I believe smart beta or factor-based ETPs is one of the key revolutionary ideas to appear in the investment world in recent memory, I will have a great deal to say about this subject and the many tangential ideas that arise from it going forward.  After nine years focusing primarily on the VIX, volatility and related subjects, it is time to charge off in some new directions, starting with some that have a whiff of volatility and ETP innovation.

For now I am going to be content with updating a February 2013 post, with the title The Options and Volatility ETPs Landscape.  At that time, I wanted to capture those ETPs which employed a buy-write / covered call approach, employed a put-write strategy, focused on the convertible bond space or targeted low volatility stocks.  Well, a lot has changed in the past three years, notably in the low volatility space.  This time around, I have some enhancements to the options and volatility ETPs graphic.  As is the case with The Current VIX ETP Landscape, I have added yellow stars for those ETPs with an average daily volume of 1,000,000 or higher and pink stars for ETPs with an average daily volume between 100,000 and 1,000,000.  Additionally, I have highlighted the new currency-hedged crop of low volatility ETPs by using a red font and have captured the demise of HFIN, a financials buy-write ETF that closed in March 2015 with a X-HFIN designation. 

[source(s): VIX and More]

There are a number of other sub-categorizations I will delve into at a future data, but note that whereas FTHI is a buy-write only, FTLB adds an out-of-the-money put.  Three other relatively new arrivals, CFO, CDC and CSF, are structured so that they will hold up to 75% of portfolio assets in cash in adverse market conditions.  Another intriguing new entrant, SLOW, attempts to avoid sector bias by forcing greater sector diversification than most other low volatility ETPs.

So if you found 2015 volatility to be daunting and are looking to dampen volatility in your portfolio in 2016 or tap into the performance benefits of the low volatility anomaly, keep the list above in mind.  While comprehensive and including many ETPs with marginal liquidity, this list may not touch upon some of the many new and illiquid products that might be flying under the radar.

Related posts:

Disclosure(s): none

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Current VIX ETP Landscape

I have been writing about VIX ETPs since the launch of the initial duo of VXX and VXZ back in January 2009 and from 2010 onward I have been plotting all of them on a leverage/maturity grid like the one below. It is amazing how often various VIX ETP investors mentioned one of these charts when I talk to them. Even through the VIX ETP space has been relatively stable as of late, I have not updated this graphic since early 2014, so a refresh is long overdue.

For those who have not been following along over the years, I have plotted every VIX-based ETP using leverage on the Y-axis and maturity on the X-axis. With the advent of what I am calling VIX strategy ETPs, I have isolated in their own box in the lower right hand corner a half dozen of these products whose characteristics do not necessarily imply a fixed point on Cartesian coordinate system.

The key at the bottom highlights various salient features of each of these products. From previous incarnations, I have retained the presence of non-VIX legs (typically positions in SPX/SPY), the combination of both long and short legs, dynamic allocation of the legs and optionability. I have also shaded areas where there is high leverage/compounding risk as well as high roll yield risk. Not surprisingly, these risks converge at TVIX and UVXY, two of the more infamous VIX ETPs.  Another carryover is font color, where black indicates ETFs and blue is for ETNs.  This time around I have also added yellow stars for those ETPs with an average daily volume of 1,000,000 or higher and pink stars for ETPs with an average daily volume between 100,000 and 1,000,000. Note that while CVOL technically makes the cut, at today’s closing price of 0.40, any sort of meaningful reverse split to raise the price about 5 or 10 would highlight just how illiquid this issue is. In fact, only six VIX ETPs pass the one million share screen: TVIX, UVXY, VIXY, VXX, SVXY and XIV.

VIX ETPs 120615

[source(s): VIX and More]

There are three new additions to this graphic. The most notable of these are VXUP and VXDN, which were launched by AccuShares back in May. These products deserve a post (or series of posts) dedicated to some of the issues surrounding them, but the short version is that high complexity, frequent distributions and consistent tracking errors resulted in a product that investors decided was not worth their trouble. The other “new” products is, VQTS, the first ETP that tracks the SPX VEQTOR Switch Index, making it a relative of VQT and PHDG, but one which uses a dynamic allocation to VIX futures to achieve a 10% target realized (historical) volatility. VQTS was launched in December 2014 and like most VIX ETPs, has struggled to reach critical mass.

While the VIX ETP market is showing some signs of maturing, there are many new and exciting developments in terms of low volatility ETPs and more broadly in the ETP space in general. As I am currently at the IMN 20th Annual Global Indexing & ETF Conference – and scheduled to speak on a panel, “Trading the VIX: Riding Today's Waves of Volatility” with Larry McDonald, Mark Shore and Matt Moran tomorrow – this seems like a good time to devote more time to writing and in particular to resurrecting the “and More” portion of this blog.

Related posts (a selection from literally hundreds of posts on VIX ETPs):

Disclosure(s): net short VIX, VXX, UVXY and TVIX; net long SVXY, XIV and ZIV at time of writing

Monday, November 23, 2015

VIX Weekly Futures and Options Expire Tomorrow (Tuesday); Last Trading Day Is Today

Just a quick public service announcement to remind traders of VIX futures and options that the VIX weekly futures and options, which the CBOE launched earlier this year, will expire tomorrow instead of the usual Wednesday expiration.

The reason for the unusual Tuesday expiration is the Christmas holiday calendar. Keep in mind that VIX options expire 30 days before the underlying S&P 500 Index options on which they are based. As Christmas Day falls on a Friday this year, the SPX weekly options for the fourth week in December have their expiration moved up to Thursday, December 23, with the VIX weeklys for the fourth week in November moved up to tomorrow. Perhaps even more important, this means that this week’s VIX weeklys can last be traded today, so if you harbor any intentions about opening or closing a short-dated VIX weekly options (or futures) position tomorrow, be sure to make that happen today instead.

As an aside, as I see it, the VIX weeklys are the most important product launch in the volatility space in several years. The VIX weekly futures were launched in July, followed by a launch of the VIX weekly options in October. How popular are these products? Well, the VIX weekly options that expire tomorrow have an open interest of just under 100,000 contracts as I type this, as the graphic below demonstrates.

VIX weekly options 122315

[source(s): Livevol Pro / CBOE]

The VIX weeklys have already become a staple of my client portfolios and are something every volatility investor should investigate. If you are one of those who has shied away from weeklys or is not comfortable trading options close to expiration, one book that I’m sure will give you something to think about along those lines is Jeff Augen’s, Trading Options at Expiration.

It should go without saying every options trader should have their own options calendar handy in order to help identify these calendar anomalies in advance. My personal favorites are as follows:

Note that the links above are for 2016. For 2015 or for any other year, just edit the URL accordingly.

Finally, I have missed blogging on a regular basis and am committed to getting back into the game this week, ramping up my activity into the December FOMC meeting.

Related posts:

Disclosure(s): short VIX at time of writing; the CBOE and Livevol are advertisers on VIX and More

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

China Growth and Market Structural Integrity Top List of Fear Poll Concerns

After a hiatus of almost a year (the October 2014 pullback, to be exact), I have reprised the VIX and More Fear Poll in an attempt to get some insight into which issues have been responsible for bring fear back into the investing equation and in so triggering the highest VIX spike (53.29) outside of the 2008-09 financial crisis and the #5 and #6 one-day VIX spikes ever on consecutive days.

In the chart below, I have summarized the top ten responses from almost 400 voters, covering 40 countries over the past two days.  The question:  “Which of the following makes you most fearful anxious or uncertain about the stock market?”

VIX and More Fear Poll results 090215

[source(s): VIX and More]

I should note that Tuesday’s responses had “Market structural integrity (high-frequency trading, flash crashes, exchange stability, etc.)” as the #1 concern, but a late flurry of votes today for “China – weak economic growth” put China concerns over the top. Combining Chinese growth concerns with concerns about a bubble in Chinese stocks and/or housing makes it a landslide in favor of all things China. Without too much of a stretch, one could also lump in the likes of currency problems, deflation, low crude oil prices and falling commodities prices in general into a broader China-related bucket and suddenly the China + ripple effect accounts for about 50% of the votes.

As always, I love to see how the American view of the world contrasts with those non-U.S. respondents. This time around, the area most overemphasized by Americans relative to the rest of the world is, in classic Americentric myopia fashion…”U.S. – weak economic growth,” which 8.7% more Americans label as their #1 concern than their non-U.S. counterparts. Conversely, the biggest blind spot for Americans – at least relative to the concerns of the rest of the world – is commodities prices, which Americans underweight by 5.1%. A close second in the American myopia sweepstakes is Chinese bubbles in stocks and/or housing. I do not find the commodities oversight to be surprising, but certainly the relatively low concern about Chinese bubbles is unexpected.

For those who have not seen some of the earlier incarnations of this poll, these dataeback to 2012 and chronicle a U.S. public that was so obsessed with the fiscal cliff that they did not fully appreciate the gravity of the European sovereign debt crisis.

Related posts:

Disclosure(s): none

Monday, August 24, 2015

Third Biggest and Second Longest SPX Peak to Trough Pullback Since March 2009

Nary a pullback goes by without at least a handful of requests to update my pullback table to help put the current pullback in perspective. Whether the current market action is best described as a pullback, correction or even bear market, I am happy to oblige.

For those who may new to this graphic, note that the table below includes only S&P 500 Index pullbacks from all-time highs and only those that go back to the March 2009 bottom. (Due to the all-time high requirement, I count back to the May 20th intraday high of 2134.72, even though almost all of the damage has been done in the past three days.) In terms of defining the minimum pullback for the table, here 2.75% seems to be a natural cutoff, but I am more apt to include smaller numbers if it took a relatively large number of days to arrive at the bottom. Of course the current move does more than just squeak in: it is now the third largest in terms of magnitude at 12.5% and second longest from peak to trough, at 66 days.

Worth noting is that the #1 pullback (21.6% in 2011) saw a peak VIX of 48.00 during the decline, while the #2 pullback (17.1% in 2010) coincided with a maximum VIX of 48.20. The current pullback falls into the #3 slot, while the #4 pullback (10.9% in 2012) saw a maximum VIX of only 26.71. For the record, today’s VIX intraday high of 53.29 is the highest VIX on record outside of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, with data going back to 1990.

SPX pullback table as of 082415

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

While there is no obvious proximate cause of the current pullback and VIX spike, it is clear that concerns about slowing growth in China is the main source of investor anxiety.  Investors are clearly uneasy about various sub-plots related to the real level of China’s GDP, the impact of slowing Chinese growth on commodities and related markets, speculative excess and bubbles in China’s domestic stock market (ASHR) and real estate market (TAO) or broader concerns about the ability of the Chinese government to manage the economic transition from infrastructure-driven growth to growth based on domestic consumption.

Sharp selling and higher volatility has been present for many months in commodities and currencies. Only recently has the selling and higher volatility spilled over into Chinese equities and emerging markets as a whole. In fact, emerging markets have suffered greatly as of late, with the popular EEM ETF plummeting during the last two weeks and now down 32% from its April high. At the same time, the VXEEM emerging markets volatility index soared to record of 111.39 on an intraday basis today, crushing the previous all-time high of 86.44.

As with all big pullbacks, at this point we only know that we are closer to a bottom and have no assurance that the current bottom will hold. Most likely it will be tested again in the next day or two and traders will take their cues based on how well SPX 1867 holds up as support.
Related posts:

Disclosure(s): long EEM at time of writing

Last Two Days Are #5 and #6 One-Day VIX Spikes in History

Many readers have commented that one of their favorite of my regular graphics is the table of VIX spikes of 30% or more that I update periodically in this space, along with the subsequent performance in the S&P 500 Index following these spikes.

This time around I have elected to add an additional column that identifies the catalysts involved (necessarily a subjective process) in each instance. When thinking about these catalysts, it might be helpful to compare the nature of the threat and the size of the VIX spike to changes in volatility during various high-profile historical events, an analysis I captured in Volatility During Crises. Another useful exercise is to think about the fundamental factors influencing each VIX spike in the context of A Conceptual Framework for Volatility Events, which I find particularly useful in helping to gauge just how large of a VIX spike a certain type of event might trigger.

Of course the table below has its own set of data nuggets, both fundamental and technical. One interesting statistic I find worth highlighting is the relatively high frequency of large VIX spikes that have occurred during the past five years. VIX data goes back 26 years and yet more than half of the VIX spikes in this table data are from the past five years. I think it is no coincidence that the VIX ETPs (initially VXX and VXZ) were launched in 2009 and the inverse VIX ETPs (XIV and ZIV) and leveraged VIX ETPs (starting with TVIX) were launched in the following year, when big VIX spikes suddenly became more common – much more so than during the 2008 financial crisis, the dotcom crash, etc. For additional information on the subject of more VIX spikes in spite of a generally lower volatility environment, check out 2014 Had Third Highest Number of 20% VIX Spikes.

History of 30 pct VIX Spikes w Catalysts 082415

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

As noted previously, based on the data for all VIX spikes in excess of 30%, the SPX has a tendency to outperform its long-term average over the course of the 1, 3 and 5-day periods following the VIX spike. Also worth noting that that 10 and 20 days following the VIX spike, the SPX has a tendency not only to underperform, but to decline. Further, while the huge decline following 9/29/08 VIX spike tends to dwarf the other data points, even when you remove the 9/29/08 VIX spike it turns out that the SPX still loses money in the 10 and 20-day period following a VIX spike. When the analysis is extended out 50 trading days, the SPX is back to being profitable, but performing below its long-term average. On the other hand, when the analysis includes 100 days following the VIX spike, the SPX is back to outperforming its long-term average.

In summary, this data suggests that following a 30% one-day VIX spike, there appears to generally be a tradable oversold condition in stocks that lasts approximately one week, followed by a period of another month or so in which the markets typically has difficulty coming to terms with the threat to stocks. This tendency makes today’s market action even more remarkable in that today was by far the worst performance of the SPX in a day following a 30% VIX spike.

Taking a longer-term perspective, looking out at least one quarter, all fears are usually in the rear view mirror and stocks are likely to have tacked on significant gains.

As noted many times here in the past, the data in this table supports the idea of both short-term and longer-term mean reversion, but calls into question the role of mean reversion in the 10-20 days following a VIX spike, where fundamental factors have a tendency to overwhelm a technically oversold condition in stocks.

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Disclosure(s): short VIX at time of writing; the CBOE is an advertiser on VIX and More

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