Professional Volatility Strategies

Six years ago on this blog I wrote "XIV: When A "Sure Thing" Goes Bad, highlighting that the key drivers of Volatility ETPs are 1) the change in price of the relevant VIX futures contracts and 2) the term structure. While XIV no longer exists after last year's blow up, the message is still relevant to XIV's reduced leverage replacement, SVXY. In fact, an alternate title for this post could be "When a "Sure Thing" Goes Bad -- SVXY Edition"

Similar to XIV, SVXY is a fund that can be used as a play when an investor believes that volatility will decline. Although SVXY has only half the leverage that XIV had (-0.5x vs -1x), it can still produce strong gains and losses.

Below is a chart of the price of SVXY calculated as if it had the -0.5x leverage since 2004 (prices prior to the fund's official leverage reduction have been constructed by calculating the index value using 1st and 2nd month VIX futures data).



I've highlighted most of the larger price drops to help illustrate that SVXY is not a buy-and-hold security, even in its reduced leverage form. When the market structure changed in 2007 & 2008, SVXY still lost 70% of its value due to strong backwardation in VIX Futures.

As long-time readers know, the term structure of VIX futures is what drives various VIX funds, including SVXY, VXXB, UVXY, TVIX, VIXY, VIIX, and ZIV.

SVXY performs best in years where there is a strong and persistent contango, the condition where VIX is lower than VIX futures. The best way to measure the degree of contango for these products is to look at the weighted value of first and second month VIX futures as compared to spot VIX. Below is a graph of the weighted VIX futures values to spot VIX over the past 11 years.



The trendline here provides a way to filter out the daily noise and allows us to verify that the years in which SVXY performed the best experienced the largest and most persistent contango. On the flip side, the time frames that SVXY performed badly experienced backwardation and/or a small contango.

The fact that the term structure is such a strong driver of VIX ETPs is why professionals track this data closely. We track VIX Futures data and associated metrics shown on our website and use information from the term structure, price momentum, historical volatility, and the volatility of the VIX as inputs to our automated algorithms for buying and selling. The algorithm values are then used to trigger automated buying and selling of VIX ETPs and are emailed to subscribers. We track this data intraday as well and post it to both our Intraday Indicators page as well as our Daily Forecast page.

Our results (as tracked by a third party) substantially beat the S&P 500 over the long term. A screenshot of the VXX Bias and VRP+VXX Bias since we began tracking them on Collective2 are shown below:


VXX Bias:


VRP+VXX Bias ("Trading Volatility 1"):



Over the long term our approach can do well in both bull and bear markets, as seen in by our hypothetical backtest summary.



Clearly not all years are huge winners but the data shows that the use of the term structure data tends to be extremely valuable. If you are interested in checking out what we offer to subscribers you can view our Subscribe page.

One more note: We made a change to our VRP indicator in January 2019 so that it can now be used as a standalone strategy. As such, I am now having Collective2 track that as well. It can be found under Enhanced VRP.


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Hypothetical and Simulated Performance Disclaimer
The results are based on simulated or hypothetical performance results that have certain inherent limitations. Unlike the results shown in an actual performance record, these results do not represent actual trading. Also, because these trades have not actually been executed, these results may have under- or over-compensated for the impact, if any, of certain market factors, such as lack of liquidity. Simulated or hypothetical trading programs in general are also subject to the fact that they are designed with the benefit of hindsight. No representation is being made that any account will or is likely to achieve profits or losses similar to these being shown. Backtest results do not account for any costs associated with trade commissions or subscription costs.  Additional performance differences in backtests arise from the methodology of using the 4:00pm ET closing values for SVXY,  VXXB, and ZIV as approximated trade prices for indicators that require VIX and VIX futures to settle at 4:15pm ET.






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Fidelity Lifts Restrictions On SVXY

After prohibiting SVXY as part of fallout from the XIV blow up last year, Fidelity is now allowing people to purchase inverse volatility funds provided they complete a one-time Investment Disclosure.

After attempting to place the order, you will need to read their disclosure and check a box to indicate that you agree. 

After that you can trade SVXY there as before in either retirement or cash accounts.

Other brokers have lifted restrictions as well so it may be worth checking yours as well if you previously faced issues with inverse volatility ETNs.



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Barclays To Replace VXX With VXXB

As planned in the original VXX prospectus from its launch in 2009, VXX will be delisted as a security next week on Jan 30, 2019. Barclays has issued the replacement, VXXB, which is currently trading and is essentially identical to VXX.

To help with the transition, Barclays has published a VXX/VXXB comparison sheet as well as guidance around the transition process.

We have been keeping an eye on the outstanding number of ETNs for both VXX and VXXB over the past month. Very little progress has been made in the transition and VXX continues to hold about 3x the assets of VXXB, with VXX holding $921M as of yesterday.

If VXX's market cap does not come down substantially by Jan 28 there exists a potential for a temporary volatility crash on Jan 29 through Jan 30 as Barclays will need to pay cash out to holders on VXX on Jan 30.

However, as outlined in the guidance document, there exists an option for larger investors to take no action and simultaneously sell positions in VXX and buying equivalents in VXXB and may happen in the last days of VXX trading. This would be the smoothest transition route but it is not clear the percentage of holders will be utilizing this option.



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Market Trends Point To Another Year of Volatility in 2019

Navigating the stock market in 2017 was easy. Shorting volatility was easy money. Picking individual stocks was easy and everyone was a brilliant strategist.

Then came 2018. The graph below highlights the fact that while less than 2% of assets were negative in 2017, 90% of assets are negative YTD in 2018 -- they highest percentage since... ever.


In another stark contrast to 2017, the short volatility ETPs have lost over 90% of their value in 2018 thanks to February's historic volatility spike. Last year's buy-and-hold everything strategy has been a bust across the board in 2018.

One of the few assets that lost in 2017 was volatility. Unsurprisingly, volatility has been one of the few bright spots in 2018 with the VIX index gaining +74% YTD and VXX +32% YTD.

What sort of market trends appear to be happening now and on tap for 2019?
 - decelerating corporate earnings [now]
 - late stages of the corporate debt cycle [now]
 - decline of demand for U.S. Treasuries [now]
 - quantitative tightening [now]
 - slowing global growth [now]
 - trend of de-dollarization [now]
 - eventual reverse to more quantitative easing [late 2019]

That's a recipe for another difficult year for a range of assets with a strong possibility of wide movements within the equity markets as the year progresses. As we stated three years ago, traders need data-driven, reliable, observable, and easy-to-follow trading rules in order to set themselves up for consistent success. One of the reasons that 90% of people fail to make money at trading is they fail to have a process-oriented trading plan. As the saying goes, "Plan the trade. Trade the plan."

We think that volatility will again be a major factor within the markets in 2019. Our playbook to make money on short-term investing opportunities is to maintain a quantitative-driven investment process for volatility ETPs that has made us successful for the past 7+ years. Specifically, our VXX Bias and VRP indicators.

Why? Because they perform exceedingly well over the long term by trading both long volatility using VXX (soon to be replaced by VXXB) and short volatility using SVXY (previously using XIV).



We've previously noted that 2018 has given us trouble and that hasn't changed much since July. Our automated trading performance as tracked by a third party now stands at -22% for VRP+VXX Bias and +33% for VXX Bias. While the year is not yet over, those numbers are lagging average performance in most years. However, when the average annual return is north of 50% per year under a range of varying market conditions with best performance occurring during market drawdowns, it makes sense to stick with a good thing.

We take the guesswork out of the investing equation with a solid set of objective tools to guide decision making. At Trading Volatility our algorithms conduct daily monitoring of a variety of volatility-related data to generate our VXX Bias and VRP indicators which provide us with objective information about the likely direction of volatility ETPs, including VXX, VXXB, UVXY, TVIX, SVXY and ZIV.

Our algorithms continuously measure market data throughout each trading day and publish results on our subscribers' Intraday Indicator page. Our automation also emails and publishes the indicators' final values at the end of each day so that subscribers' can track the indicator of their choosing and act accordingly.

If you find yourself struggling in this market check us out. Stop guessing what will happen and sign up for our daily data-driven indicators for volatility ETPs.  To learn more visit our Strategy page and Subscribe page or drop us a line via the Contact page.

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Hypothetical and Simulated Performance Disclaimer
The results are based on simulated or hypothetical performance results that have certain inherent limitations. Unlike the results shown in an actual performance record, these results do not represent actual trading. Also, because these trades have not actually been executed, these results may have under- or over-compensated for the impact, if any, of certain market factors, such as lack of liquidity. Simulated or hypothetical trading programs in general are also subject to the fact that they are designed with the benefit of hindsight. No representation is being made that any account will or is likely to achieve profits or losses similar to these being shown. Backtest results do not account for any costs associated with trade commissions or subscription costs.  Additional performance differences in backtests arise from the methodology of using the 4:00pm ET closing values for SVXY, VXX, VXXB, and ZIV as approximated trade prices for indicators that require VIX and VIX futures to settle at 4:15pm ET.


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A Visualization of VIX Implied S&P 500 Movement

U.S. Equities have taken a hit in the first four weeks of October with the S&P 500 declining as much as -9%. The VIX has risen ~108% this month up to 25.23 as of the close yesterday.

As we have noted previously, a VIX of 25 seems a bit low given the magnitude of the daily movements. Below you can see daily S&P 500 returns and their corresponding VIX values on the big sell-off days 10/10/18 (-3.3%) and 10/24/18 (-3.1%).


Based on this historical data, we could reasonably expect VIX to be trading in the 30-45 range. However, the market is apparently not expecting large rallies over the next month.

Recall that the VIX is an expression of expected annualized market volatility over the next 30 days.  A VIX of 25 means annualized move (up or down) of 25%. That value can be converted to monthly terms by dividing by the square root of 12, which yields an expected dispersion of the S&P 500 of 7.2%, or an implied range of 2463-2848.

We can convert that to a weekly and daily basis as well (divide by the square root of 52) to get a weekly dispersion of 3.5%, giving an implied range of 2558 to 2748 from yesterday's close. Interestingly, the 1-week dispersion target for $SPX based on $VIX after Oct 11th was 2820 (it came as high as 2817).

So perhaps $VIX isn't "too low" based on the magnitude of moves. Instead, it's more that investors don't expect a swift rally. Charting out the implied dispersion we can visualize the market's short-term expectations:



We can expect VIX to adjust accordingly as S&P 500 rises and falls. I'll provide updates within the Twitter thread on the subject.





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