In the past year a number of news reporters and others have asked if the CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX®) was at an unusually “low” level in light of all the worldwide geopolitical uncertainties. The average daily closing levels for the VIX Index are 19.4 since January 1990, but only 12.8 since June 2016.
- At the 70th CFA Institute Annual Conference in May 2017, Richard Thaler of the University of Chicago opined that the “low” level of the VIX Index was one of the biggest financial mysteries of our time. (Today it was announced that Professor Thaler won the Nobel Prize in economics for his research on how human traits affect individual decisions as well as financial markets.)
- Early in 2017 the minutes of the Federal Reserve “expressed concern that the low level of implied volatility in equity markets appeared inconsistent with the considerable uncertainty attending the outlook” for President Trump to deliver on pro-growth campaign policies.
Some observers have questioned whether there is too much complacency in the markets, and too little interest in protecting against downside risk in equities. Below are charts and four key facts to help address issues the current levels of VIX Index and perceived complacency in the markets.
SPX HISTORIC VOLATILITY HAS BEEN LOWER THAN THE VIX INDEX
Since June 1, 2016, the avg. daily closing levels were 12.6 for VIX Index, and 8.6 for 20-trading-day historic volatility of the S&P 500 Index (SPX). The S&P has not had huge moves over the past year, and with an average SPX historic volatility of 8.6, an average VIX level above 15 might be difficult to maintain.
VIX FUTURES USUALLY PRICED HIGHER THAN VIX INDEX
Since June 1, 2016, the avg. daily closing levels were 17.2 for the VIX 5-month futures, and 12.6 for VIX Index. Over the past year, the VIX usually has been in contango and the forward expectations of VIX levels usually have been higher than the levels of the VIX Index.
SPX IMPLIED VOLATILITY OFTEN DIFFERS FROM VIX INDEX
Since June 1, 2016, the avg. daily closing levels were 31.8 for implied vol of SPX options at 80% moneyness (thus higher implied vol for out-of-the-money SPX protective puts), and 12.6 for VIX Index. While the early-2017 Federal Reserve minutes “expressed concern [about] the low level of implied volatility in equity markets,” it is worth noting that the SPX implied volatility levels at both 80% and 90% moneyness (corresponding with out-of-the-money puts used for portfolio protection) generally were much higher than the VIX levels. It appears that some investors have quite a bit of interest in vehicles that can be used to hedge big downside risk.
Since June 1, 2016, the avg. daily closing levels were 12.6 for VIX Index, and 10.0 for the 30-trading-day implied volatility of at-the-money SPX options. While some people question whether VIX is too low, it is worth noting that the average levels for Bloomberg’s estimate of A-T-M implied volatility were 2.6 points lower than the VIX Index.
CBOE SKEW INDEX RECENTLY IS HIGHER
The avg. daily closing levels for the CBOE SKEW Index are 118.9 since January 1990, but a much higher 132.0 since June 1, 2016. CBOE SKEW Index values, which are calculated from weighted strips of out-of-the-money S&P 500 options, rise to higher levels as investors become more fearful of a “black swan” event — an unexpected event of large magnitude and consequence. The value of SKEW increases with the tail risk of S&P 500 returns. If there were no tail risk expectations, SKEW would be equal to 100. www.cboe.com/SKEW Implied volatility for O-T-M SPX puts (used for portfolio protection) generally recently has been much higher than implied vol for A-T-M SPX options.
VIX EVENT IN CHICAGO ON OCT. 19
An upcoming event on Current Dynamics of the VIX Market will be held at 4:00 p.m. CT on Thursday, October 19, at CBOE. For more information and to register, please visit http://bit.ly/VIX-Oct-19 – the event is for financial professionals only.