Does Your Firm Use Active ETFs?

Christi Shell was recently asked by ETF.com “Does your firm use active ETFs”.

Christi Shell Capital Management

Her answer from the interview:

Our portfolio manager, Mike Shell, doesn’t currently include active ETFs in our universe of tradeable ETFs, but that doesn’t mean he’d never include them. He tactically shifts between ETFs, based on investor behavioral measures and supply/demand. So our portfolio management style itself is the active management; we are, essentially, actively managing beta.

We use ETFs to gain specific exposure to a return stream such as a sector, country, commodity or currency. With an index ETF, we pretty much know what we’re going to get inside the ETF. (Of course, indexes are reconstituted by a committee of people, so we don’t know in advance what they’ll do. However, an index follows some general rules systematically.)

Therefore, if we discover an ETF we believe has a strategy and return stream that we want access to, then we would add it, whether it’s active or not.

Christi Shell is Managing Director and Certified Wealth Strategist® at Shell Capital Management LLC. Christi has 27 years in financial services ranging from bank management to wealth management giving her a unique skill set and experience to help clients get what they want.

Source: http://www.etf.com/publications/etfr/does-your-firm-use-active-etfs

Global Stock and Bond Market Trends 2Q 2018

Yesterday we shared the 2nd Quarter 2018 Global Investment Markets Review, which used a broad range of indexes on performance tables to present the year-to-date progress of world markets. The issue with a table that simply shows a return number on it is it doesn’t properly present the path it took to get there. In the real world, investors and portfolio managers have to live with the path of the trend and we can see that only in the price trend itself. So, today we’ll look at the price trends of stocks, bonds, commodities, real estate, sectors, and other alternatives like volatility. I don’t just look for potentially profitable price trends in stocks and bonds, I scan the world.

How is the market doing this year? Which market?

First, a quick glance at global markets including commodities, stock indexes, volatility, ranked by year-to-date momentum. We wee the CBOE Volatility Index $VIX has gained the most. One clear theme about 2018 is that volatility has increased and this includes implied or expected volatility. Overall, we see some asymmetry since the markets in the green are more positive than the markets in the red. The popular S&P 500 stock index most investors point to is in the middle with only a 2% gain for the year. Commodities like Cocoa, Lumber, Orange Juice, and Crude Oil are leaders while sugar, live cattle, and soybeans are the laggards. Most investors probably don’t have exposure to these markets, unless they get it through a commodities ETF.

 

Most investors probably limit themselves to the broad asset classes, since that’s what most financial advisors do. So, we’ll start there. Below are the trends of broad market ETFs like the S&P 500, Aggregate Bond, Long-Term Treasury. For the year, Emerging Markets has the weakest trend – down nearly -6%. Developed Markets countries are the second weakest. The rising U.S. Dollar is helping to put pressure on International stocks. The leader this year is Commodities, as we also saw above. The Commodity index has gained 8% YTD.

What about alternative investments? We’ll use liquid alternative investments as an example since these are publicly available ETFs. I’ve included markets like Real Estate, Private Equity, Mortgage REITs, and the Energy MLP. Not a lot of progress from buying and holding these alternative investments. This is why I prefer to shift between markets trying to keep capital only in those markets trending up and out of those trending down.

liquid alternative investments

The Volatility VXX ETF/ETN that is similar to the VIX index has gained so much early in the year I left it off the following chart because it distorted the trends of the other markets. It’s one of the most complex securities to trade, but we can see it spike up to 90% when global markets fell in February.

VIX VXX

Looking at the price trend alone isn’t enough. It would be incomplete without also considering their drawdowns. That is, how much the market declined off its prior high over the period. Analyzing the drawdown is essential because investors have to live with the inevitable periods their holdings decline in value. It’s when we observe these decline we realize the need for actively managing risk. For me, actively managing risk means I have a predetermined exit point at all times in my positions. I know when I’ll exit a loser before it becomes a significant loss. Many say they do it, I’ve actually done it for two decades.

The alternative investments are in drawdowns YTD and Energy MLP, and Mortgage REIT is down over -10% from their prior highs. The Energy MLP is actually down -51% from its 2014 high, which I don’t show here.

alternative investment drawdowns risk management

Next, we go back to the global asset class ETFs to see their drawdowns year-to-date. We don’t just experience the gains, we also have to be willing to live with their declines along the way. It isn’t enough to provide an excellent investment management program, we also have to offer one that fits with investors objectives for risk and return. The most notable declines have been in Emerging Market and developed international countries. However, all of these assets are down off their prior highs.

GLOBAL ASSET CLASS RISK MANAGEMENT TREND FOLLOWING 2018

Clearly, markets don’t always go up. The trends so far in the first six months of 2018 haven’t offered many opportunities for global asset allocation to make upward progress.

This is why I rotate, rather than allocate, to shift between markets rather than allocate to them. We also trade in more markets than we covered here, like leading individual stocks. The magnitude of these drawdowns also shows why I believe it is essential to direct and control risk and drawdown.

 

Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global Tactical.

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

 

 

 

2nd Quarter 2018 Global Investment Markets Review

It is no surprise to see global equity markets stall after such a positive trend last year. As we will see, the weakness is global and across both bonds and stocks.

Before we review the year-to-date gains and losses for indexes, I want to share some of the most interesting asset allocation indexes I’ve seen.

Keep in mind: we don’t offer this kind of asset allocation that allocates capital to fixed buckets of stocks and bonds and then rebalances them periodically. As a tactical portfolio manager, I don’t allocate to markets, I rotate between them to focus my exposure on markets in a positive trend and avoid (or short) those in a negative trend. I don’t need to have exposure to falling markets. We consider our portfolio a replacement (or at least a compliment) to traditional “asset allocation” offered by most investment advisors.

I want to present some global asset allocation indexes because, in the real world, most investors don’t allocate all of their investment capital to just stocks or just bonds; it’s some combination of them. If they keep their money in cash in the bank, they aren’t investors at all.

To observe what global asset allocation returns look like, we can look at the Morningstar Target Risk Indexes:

The Morningstar Target Risk Index series consists of five asset allocation indexes that span the risk spectrum from conservative to aggressive. The family of asset allocation indexes can serve as benchmarks to help with target-risk mutual fund selection and evaluation by offering an objective yardstick for performance comparison.

All of the indexes are based on a well-established asset allocation methodology from Ibbotson Associates, a Morningstar company and a leader in the field of asset allocation theory.

The family consists of five indexes covering the following equity risk preferences:

  • Aggressive Target Risk
  • Moderately Aggressive Target Risk
  • Moderate Target Risk
  • Moderately Conservative Target Risk
  • Conservative Target Risk

The securities selected for the asset allocation indexes are driven by the rules-based indexing methodologies that power Morningstar’s comprehensive index family. Morningstar indexes are specifically designed to be seamless, investable building blocks that deliver pure asset-class exposure. Morningstar indexes cover a global set of stocks, bonds, and commodities.

These global asset allocation models are operated by two of the best-known firms in the investment industry and the leaders in asset allocation and indexing. I believe in rotating between markets to gain exposure to the trends we want rather than a fixed allocation to them, but if I all I was going to do is asset allocation, I would use these.

Now that we know what it is, we can see the year-to-date return under the YTD column and other period returns. All five of the risk models are down YTD. So, it’s safe to say the first six months of 2018 has been challenging for even the most advanced asset allocation.

Below are the most popular U.S. stock indexes. The Dow Jones Industrial Average which gained the most last year is down this year. The Tech heavy NASDAQ and small-cap stocks of the Russell 2000 have gained the most.

The well-known bond indexes are mostly down YTD – even municipal bonds. Rising interest rates and the expectation rates will continue to rise is putting pressure on bond prices.

Morningstar has even more indexes that break bonds down into different fixed-income categories. Longer-term bonds, as expected, are responding most negatively to rising rates. The most conservative investors have the more exposure to these bonds and they are down as much as -5% the past six months. That’s a reason I don’t believe in allocating capital to markets on a fixed basis. I prefer to avoid the red.

Next, we observe the Morningstar style and size categories and sectors. As I wrote in Growth has Stronger Momentum than Value and Sector Trends are Driving Equity Returns, sectors like Technology are driving the Growth style.

International stocks seem to be reacting to the rising U.S. Dollar. As the Dollar rises, it reduced the gain of foreign stocks priced in foreign currency. Although, some of these countries are in negative trends, too. Latin America, for example, was one of the strongest trends last year and has since trended down.

At Shell Capital, we often say that our Global Tactical Rotation® portfolios are a replacement for global asset allocation and the so-called “target date” funds. Target date funds are often used in 401(k) plans as an investment option. They haven’t made much progress so far in 2018.

It is no surprise to see most global markets down or flat in 2018 after such a positive 2017.

But, only time will tell how it all unfolds the rest of the year.

Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global Tactical.

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

The week in review

The week in review

In case you missed it, below are all of the observations we shared this week. When there are more directional trend changes and volatility, I find more asymmetries to write about. That’s because I look at markets through the lens of “what has changed”?

When I observe more divergence between markets and trends, I see more asymmetries to share.

When global markets are just trending up together and quiet, investor sentiment is usually getting complacent, I typically point it out, since that often precedes a changing trend.

All of it is asymmetric observations; directional trends and changes I see with a tilt.

The opposite is symmetry, which is a balance. Symmetry doesn’t interest me enough to mention it.

When buying interest and selling pressure are the same, the price doesn’t move.

When risk equals the return, there is no gain.

When profit equals loss, there is no progress.

In all I do, I’m looking for Asymmetry®.

I want my return to exceed the risk I take to achieve it.

I want my profits to far surpass my losses.

I want my wins to be much greater than my losses.

I want more profit, less loss.

You probably get my drift.

 

Here are the observations we shared this week: 

Growth has Stronger Momentum than Value

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/25/growth-has-stronger-momentum-than-value/

 

Sector Trends are Driving Equity Returns

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/25/sector-trends-are-driving-equity-returns/

 

Trend Analysis of the Stock Market

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/25/trend-analysis-of-the-stock-market/

 

Trend of the International Stock Market

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/26/trend-of-the-international-stock-market/

 

Interest Rate Trend and Rate Sensitive Sector Stocks

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/27/interest-rate-trend-and-rate-sensitive-sector-stocks/

 

Expected Volatility Stays Elevated in 2018

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/27/expected-volatility-stays-elevated-in-2018/

 

Sector ETF Changes: Indexes aren’t so passive

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/27/sector-etf-changes-indexes-arent-so-passive/

 

Commodities are trending with better momentum than stocks

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/28/commodities-are-trending-with-better-momentum-than-stocks/

 

Investor sentiment gets more bearish

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/28/investor-sentiment-gets-more-bearish/

 

Is it a stock pickers market?

https://asymmetryobservations.com/2018/06/29/is-it-a-stock-pickers-market/

 

Is it a stock pickers market?

Is it a stock pickers market?

Sometimes the stock market is trending so strongly that the rising tide lifts all boats. No matter what stocks or stock fund you invest in, it goes up. That was the case much of 2017.

Then, there are periods when we see more divergence.

When we observe more divergence, it means stocks, sectors, size, or style has become uncorrelated and are trending apart from each other.

I pointed out in Sector Trends are Driving Equity Returns; there is a notable divergence in sector performance, and that is driving divergence in size and style. Growth stocks have been outperformance value, and it’s driven by strong momentum in Technology and Consumer Discretionary sectors.

When specific sectors are showing stronger relative momentum, we can either focus more on those sectors rather than broad stock index exposure. Or, we can look inside the industry to find the leading individual stocks.

For example, Consumer Discretionary includes industries like automobiles and components, consumer durables, apparel, hotels, restaurants, leisure, media, and retailing are primarily represented in this group. The Index includes Amazon, Home Depot, Walt Disney, and Comcast. Consumer Discretionary is the momentum leader having trended up 9.7% so far this year as the S&P 500 has only gained just under 1%.

momentum sectors

If we take a look inside the sector, we see the leaders are diverging farther away from the sector ETF and far beyond the stock market index.

momentum stocks consumer discretionary sector NFLX AMZN AAPL

In fact, all the sectors 80 stock holdings are positive in 2018.

The Consumer Discretionary sector is about 13% of the S&P 500. As you can see, if these top four or five sectors in the S&P 500 aren’t trending up it is a drag on the broad stock index.

ETF Sector Allocation exposure S&P 500

So, Is it a stock pickers market? 

When we see more divergence, it seems to be a better market for “stock pickers” to separate the winners from the losers.

Another way to measure participation in the market is through quantitative breadth indicators. Breadth indicators are a measure of trend direction “participation” of the stocks. For example, the percent of the S&P 500 stocks above or below a moving average is an indication of the momentum of participation.

Below is the percent of stocks above their 50 day moving average tells us how many stocks are trending above their moving average (an uptrend). Right now, the participation is symmetrical; 52% of the stocks in the S&P 500 are in a positive trend as defined by the 50 day moving average. We can also see where that level stands relative to the stock market lows in February and April and the all-time high in January when over 85% of stocks were in an uptrend. By this measure, only half are trending up on a shorter term basis.

SPX SPY PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 50 DAY MOVING AVERAGE 1 YEAR

The 200-day moving average looks back nearly a year to define the direction of a trend, so it takes a greater move in momentum to get the price above or below it. At this point, the participation is symmetrical; 55% of stocks are above their 200-day moving average and by this time frame, it hasn’t recovered as well from the lows. The percent of stocks above their 200-day moving average is materially below the 85% of stocks that were participating in the uptrend last year. That is, 30% fewer stocks are in longer trend uptrends.

SPY SPX PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 200 DAY MOVING AVERGAGE 1 YEAR

In the above charts, I only showed a one-year look back of the trend. Next, we’ll take a step back to view the current level relative to the past three years.

The percent of stocks above their 50 day moving average is still at the upper range of the past three years. The significant stock market declines in August-September 2015 and December-January hammered the stocks down to a very washed out point. During those market declines, the participation was very asymmetric: 90% of the stocks were in downtrends and only about 10% remained in shorter-term uptrends.

SPX SPY PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 50 DAY MOVING AVERAGE 3 YEARS

The percent of stocks above their 200 day moving average also shows a much more asymmetrical situation during the declines in 2015 and 2016 when the stock index dropped around -15% or more. Only 20% of stocks remained in a positive trend.

SPX PERCENT OF STOCKS ABOVE 200 DAY MOVING AVERAGE 3 YEARS

Is it a stock pickers market?

Only about half of the stocks in the index are in uptrends, so the other half isn’t. So, if we avoid the half that are in downtrends and only maintains exposure to stocks in uptrends and the trends continue, we can create alpha.

But, keep in mind, that doesn’t necessarily mean we should have any exposure at all in the S&P 500 stock index because happens to have the highest sector exposure in the leading sectors.

But, for those who want to engage in “stock picking”, the timing has a higher probability now to diverge from the stock index than last year because so fewer stocks are in uptrends and more are in downtrends.

For individual stocks traders willing to look inside the box, this is a good thing.

Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global Tactical.

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Commodities are trending with better momentum than stocks

Commodities are trending with better momentum than stocks

Commodities are trending with better momentum than stocks over the past year.

A commodity is a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold, such as copper or coffee. A commodity is a basic good used in commerce that are usually used as inputs in the production of other goods or services.

Soft commodities are goods that are grown, such as wheat, or rice.

Hard commodities are mined. Examples include gold, helium, and oil.

Energy commodities include electricity, gas, coal, and oil. Electricity has the particular characteristic that it is usually uneconomical to store, and must, therefore, be consumed as soon as it is processed.

The Commodity Trend

At first glance, we see in the chart commodities ETF Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking ETF has trended meaningfully above the popular S&P 500 index of U. S. stocks. The relative outperformance is clear over this one-year time frame. Commodities, as measured by this ETF, are in an absolute positive trend and registering relative momentum.

Commodity ETF trend following commodites natural resources $GNR $GSG $DBC

Examining a price trend is incomplete without also considering its downside. On the downside, I look at the % off high drawdowns over the period. We see that commodities were more volatile than stocks before 2018 with four dips around -4%. Since the stock market -10% decline that started in February, commodities declined, too, but not as much as U. S. stocks.

asymmetry ratio commodity drawdown

Looking back at the trend chart, I added a simple trend line to show that communities are trending directionally better than the popular U. S. stock index. So, my quantitative Global Tactical Rotation®  system that ranks an unconstrained global universe of markets including bonds, stocks, commodities, currencies, and other alternatives like real estate signaled this trend has been generating asymmetric risk/return.

commodity ETF trend commodities

What is the that Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking ETF? (the bold emphasis is mine)

The Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking Fund seeks to track changes, whether positive or negative, in the level of the DBIQ Optimum Yield Diversified Commodity Index Excess Return™ (DBIQ Opt Yield Diversified Comm Index ER) plus the interest income from the Fund’s holdings of primarily US Treasury securities and money market income less the Fund’s expenses. The Fund is designed for investors who want a cost-effective and convenient way to invest in commodity futures. The Index is a rules-based index composed of futures contracts on 14 of the most heavily traded and important physical commodities in the world. The Fund and the Index are rebalanced and reconstituted annually in November.

This Fund is not suitable for all investors due to the speculative nature of an investment based upon the Fund’s trading which takes place in very volatile markets. Because an investment in futures contracts is volatile, such frequency in the movement in market prices of the underlying futures contracts could cause large losses. Please see “Risk and Other Information” and the Prospectus for additional risk disclosures. Source: Invesco

The challenge for some investors, however, is that Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking ETF generates a K-1 tax form for tax reporting. That isn’t a terrible issue, but it means instead of receiving the typical 1099 investors receive a K-1. Some investors aren’t familiar with a K-1, and they can obtain them later than a 1099.

Then, there may be other investors who simply prefer not to own futures for the reason in the second paragraph of the above discription: “Because an investment in futures contracts is volatile, such frequency in the movement in market prices of the underlying futures contracts could cause large losses.” In reality, all investments have risk and stocks can have just as much risk of “large losses” as commodity futures, but it’s a matter of investor preference and perception.

Since we have a wide range of investor types who invest in my ASYMMETRY® Investment Program I could gain my exposure to commodities in other ways. For example, the SPDR® S&P® Global Natural Resources ETF often has a similar return stream as ETFs like DBC that track a commodity futures index, except is actually invests in individual stocks instead.

Key features of the SPDR® S&P® Global Natural Resources ETF

  • The SPDR® S&P® Global Natural Resources ETF seeks to provide investment results that, before fees and expenses, correspond generally to the total return performance of the S&P® Global Natural Resources Index (the “Index”)

  • Seeks to provide exposure to a number of the largest market cap securities in three natural resources sectors – agriculture, energy, and metals and mining

  • Maximum weight of each sub-index is capped at one-third of the total weight of the Index

Below we see the price trend of this ETF of global natural resources stocks has been highly correlated to an ETF of commodities futures.

global natural resources ETF replacement for commodity ETF no K1

In fact, as we step the time frame out to the common inspection date of each ETF in 2011, the SPDR® S&P® Global Natural Resources ETF has actually outperformed Invesco DB Commodity Index Tracking ETF overall in terms of relative momentum.

commodity ETF global natural resources trend following no K1

The bottom line is, commodities “stuff” is trending up over the past two years and when the price of “stuff” is rising, that is called “inflation”.  Commodities and global natural resources have been in a downtrend for so long it shouldn’t be a surprise to see this trend reverse up. Only time will tell if it will continue, but if we want exposure to it, we can predefine our risk by deciding at what price I would exit if it doesn’t, and let the trend unfold.Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global Tactical.You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.Buying and Selling ETFsETFs are flexible and easy to trade. Investors buy and sell them like stocks, typically through a brokerage account. Investors can also employ traditional stock trading techniques; including stop orders, limit orders, margin purchases, and short sales using ETFs. They are listed on major US Stock Exchanges.

ETFs are subject to risk similar to those of stocks including those regarding short-selling and margin account maintenance. Ordinary brokerage commissions apply. In general, ETFs can be expected to move up or down in value with the value of the applicable index. Although ETF shares may be bought and sold on the exchange through any brokerage account, ETF shares are not individually redeemable from the Fund. Investors may acquire ETFs and tender them for redemption through the Fund in Creation Unit Aggregations only. Please see the prospectus for more details. After-tax returns are calculated based on NAV using the historical highest individual federal marginal income tax rates and do not reflect the impact of state and local taxes. Actual after-tax returns depend on the investor’s tax situation and may differ from those shown. The after-tax returns shown are not relevant to investors who hold their fund shares through tax-deferred arrangements such as 401(k) plans or individual retirement accounts. Performance of an index is not illustrative of any particular investment. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. As with all stocks, you may be required to deposit more money or securities into your margin account if the equity, including the amount attributable to your ETF shares, declines. Unless otherwise noted all information contained herein is that of the SPDR S&P Global Natural Resources ETF. S&P – In net total return indices, the dividends are reinvested after the deduction of withholding tax. Tax rates are applied at the country level or at the index level.

 

 

Expected Volatility Stays Elevated in 2018

Expected Volatility Stays Elevated in 2018

In late 2017, implied volatility, as measured by the VIX CBOE Volatility Index, was at abnormally low levels. I pointed out many times that vol is mean reverting, so when expected volatility is extremely low we can expect it to eventually reverse. The VIX spiked up over 200% in February and has remained more elevated than before.

VIX $VIX #VIX VOLATILITY INDEX CBOE RISK MANAGEMENT ASYMMETRIC ASYMMETRY

In the chart, I used a 50-day moving average for observation of how the VIX has remained more elevated than pre-February.

Volatility is asymmetric; when the stock market falls, implied volatility tends to spike up.

The VIX long-term average is 20, so the current level of 15-16 still isn’t high by historical measures, but the expected volatility is elevated above where it was.

Below is the VIX so far in 2018 in percentage terms. It shows the 200% gain that has since settled down, but it’s remaining higher than before.

VIX VOLATILITY 2018 RISK MANAGEMENT ASYMMETRY GLOBAL ASYMMETRIC ETF ETFS

The VIX has spiked up 45% the past 5 days.

VIX VOLATILITY ASYMMETRIC SPIKE GAIN THIS WEEK 2018 ASYMMETRY RISK

As I shared in The enthusiasm to sell overwhelmed the desire to buy March 19, 2018, I expect to see more swings (volatility) than last year, and that would be “normal” too. I said:

I define this as a non-trending market. When I factor in how the range of price movement has spread out more than double what it was, I call it a non-trending volatile condition.

Until we see either a new all-time high indicating a continuing longer-term uptrend or a new low below the February and April low indicating a new downtrend, the above holds true.

It’s a good time for a VIX primer from the CBOE:

What does it mean?

Some consider the VIX the “fear gauge”. When there is a demand for options, their premiums rise. Investor demand for options typically increases when they are concerned about the future, so they use options to hedge or replace their stocks with limited risk options strategies. Rising volatility also drives the VIX, since the VIX Index is a calculation designed to produce a measure of constant, 30-day expected volatility of the U.S. stock market, derived from real-time, mid-quote prices of S&P 500® Index

What is volatility?

Volatility measures the frequency and magnitude of price movements, both up and down, that a financial instrument experiences over a certain period of time. The more dramatic the price swings in that instrument, the higher the level of volatility. Volatility can be measured using actual historical price changes (realized volatility) or it can be a measure of expected future volatility that is implied by option prices. The VIX Index is a measure of expected future volatility.

What is the VIX Index?

Cboe Global Markets revolutionized investing with the creation of the Cboe Volatility Index® (VIX® Index), the first benchmark index to measure the market’s expectation of future volatility. The VIX Index is based on options of the S&P 500® Index, considered the leading indicator of the broad U.S. stock market. The VIX Index is recognized as the world’s premier gauge of U.S. equity market volatility.

How is the VIX Index calculated?

The VIX Index estimates expected volatility by aggregating the weighted prices of S&P 500 Index (SPXSM) puts and calls over a wide range of strike prices. Specifically, the prices used to calculate VIX Index values are midpoints of real-time SPX option bid/ask price quotations.

How is the VIX Index used?

The VIX Index is used as a barometer for market uncertainty, providing market participants and observers with a measure of constant, 30-day expected volatility of the broad U.S. stock market. The VIX Index is not directly tradable, but the VIX methodology provides a script for replicating volatility exposure with a portfolio of SPX options, a key innovation that led to the creation of tradable VIX futures and options.

To learn more about the CBOE, Volatility Index VIX visit their VIX website.

Mike Shell is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global Tactical.

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter.

The observations shared in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

 

The enthusiasm to sell overwhelmed the desire to buy March 19, 2018

The enthusiasm to sell overwhelmed the desire to buy. The S&P 500 stock index closed down -1.42% today. Stocks trended down most of the day and at 2:35pm it was down -2%. As you can see on the chart, it reversed up in the last 90 minutes and closed with positive directional movement. It almost closed above its Volume Weighted Average Price (VWAP).

There are many notable economic reports out this week, so maybe investors are concerned about to the jobs report and the Fed FOMC Meeting. The options market has priced in a 94% chance of a rate hike, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. But, this week is the first FOMC meeting for the new Chairman Powell.

Implied volatility in recent weeks is one of many signals that suggest a volatility regime change. The CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX® Index®) is a key measure of market expectations of near-term volatility conveyed by S&P 500 stock index option prices. The VIX® doesn’t seem to want to go back to those prior low levels, so the expectation is higher volatlity.

At this point, the decline today was nothing too abnormal. The stock index is -3.% off it’s high a few weeks ago and -5.4% off its all-time high. However, as you can see below it is within a normal trading range. Speaking of trading range, notice the bands of realized volatility I added to the chart are drifting sideways rather than trending up or down. I see higher lows, but equal highs in the most recent trend and lower highs looking back to January. The VIX is expected volatility, the blue bands are realized volatility.

My systems define this as a non-trending market. When I factor in how the range of price movement has spread out more than double what it was, I call it a non-trending volatile condition. It is useful for me to identify the market regime because different trend systems have different results based on the situation. For example, non-trending volatile market conditions can be hostile situations for both passive and trend following strategies. However, countertrend systems like the swings of a non-trending volatile market.

Trend following systems thrive in markets that are trending and smooth. When a market is trending and smooth, the trend following system can earn gains without having to deal with significant adverse price action. When a market trend shifts to non-trending and volatile, the trend following signals can result in whipsaws. A whipsaw is when the price was moving in one direction (and the trend follower buys) but then quickly reverses in the opposite direction (and maybe the trend follower exits with a loss). Even if the trend following system doesn’t enter and exit with a loss, in a non-trending volatile market the trend follower has to deal with the same hostile conditions as a passive investor as the market swings up and down.

My U. S. equity exposure since early February has come from my shorter term countertrend systems. My focus and the focus of my systems isn’t to predict the direction of markets but instead to identify when a market is undergoing a regime change or shifts to a distinct environment. I don’t analyze the markets to try to predict what it will do next. I look at what the market is actually doing and react to it.

 

Mike Shell is the founder and Chief Investment Officer of Shell Capital Management, LLC, and the portfolio manager of ASYMMETRY® Global Tactical.

You can follow ASYMMETRY® Observations by click on on “Get Updates by Email” on the top right or follow us on Twitter @MikeWShell

The is no guarantee that any strategy will meet its objective.  Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

 

VIX Trends Up 9th Biggest 1-day Move

About a week after a hedge fund manager who is popular with the media but has a poor track record of managing risk said “please stop talking about the low VIX”, it gains 44.4% in a single day – its 9th biggest 1-day move. He was suggesting the low VIX wasn’t an indication of high risk. If you have followed my observations, you know that I disagree. I’m one who has been talking about the low VIX and suggesting it is one of many indications of complacency among investors. That is, investors hear “all time new highs” and get overly optimistic instead of reducing their risk or being prepared to manage downside loss.

VIX biggest moves

I point out the hedge fund manager’s comment because I believe a low VIX is an indication of complacency because it measures expected implied volatility for options on the S&P 500 stocks. When implied volatility gets to historical low points, it means options traders aren’t paying high premiums for hedging “protection”. Others can believe what they want to believe. I don’t just point out observations at extremes. I actually do something.

As I pointed out recently in “No Inflection Point Yet, But… ” the VIX was at an extreme low. About a week later this other fund manager implies it may not be meaningful. That’s exactly what we expect to hear when the expected volatility gets to such an extreme low. We expect to see it shift the other direction at some point. I like to follow trends until they reach an extreme – and reverse.

Here is what it looked like.

VIX 9th biggest one day move

More importantly, here is what the stock indexes looked like on Google Finance after the close:

Stock market down Korea

Another observation I shared in “No Inflection Point Yet, But…” is that leading stocks can sometimes be more volatile and yesterday was no exception. While the stock indexes were down around -1.5% some of the most popular stocks were down about twice as much:

FANG stocks downSource: Google Finance

Of course, this is all just one day. We’ll see if it continues into a longer trend.

It’s always a good time to manage risk, but sometimes it’s more obvious than others.

The Volatility Index (VIX) is Getting Interesting Again

In the last observation I shared on the CBOE Volatlity index (the VIX) I had been pointing out last year the VIX was at a low level and then later started trending up. At that time, many volatility traders seemed to think it was going to stay low and keep going lower – I disagreed. Since then, the VIX has remained at a higher average than it had been – up until now. You can read that in VIX® gained 140%: Investors were too complacent.

Here it is again, closing at 12.45 yesterday, a relatively low level for expected volatility of the S&P 500 stocks. Investors get complacent after trends drift up, so they don’t price in so much fear in options. Below we observe a monthly view to see the bigger picture. The VIX is getting down to levels near the end of the last bull market (2007). It could go lower, but if you look closely, you’ll get my drift.

Chart created by Shell Capital with: http://www.stockcharts.com

Next, we zoom in to the weekly chart to get a loser look.

Chart created by Shell Capital with: http://www.stockcharts.com

Finally, the daily chart zooms in even more.

Chart created by Shell Capital with: http://www.stockcharts.com

The observation?

Options traders have priced in low implied volatility – they expect volatility to be low over the next month. That is happening as headlines are talking about stock indexes hitting all time highs. I think it’s a sign of complacency. That’s often when things change at some point.

It also means that options premiums are generally a good deal (though that is best determined on an individual security basis). Rather than selling premium, it may be a better time to buy it.

Let’s see what happens from here…

VIX® gained 140%: Investors were too complacent

Several months ago I started sharing some of my observations about the VIX ( CBOE Volatility Index). The VIX had gotten to a level I considered low, which implied to me that investors were too complacent, were expecting too low future volatility, and option premiums were generally cheap. After the VIX got down to levels around 11 and 12 and then started to move up, I pointed out the VIX seemed to be changing from a downward longer term trend to a rising trend.

As I was sharing my observations of the directional trend and volatility of VIX that I believed was more likely to eventually go up than down, it seemed that most others were writing just the opposite. I know that many volatility traders mostly sell volatility (options premium), so they prefer to see it fall.

As you can see in the chart below, The VIX has increased about 140% in just a few weeks.

VIX october

Chart courtesy of http://www.stockcharts.com

For those who haven’t been following along, you may consider reading the previous observations:

A VIX Pop Then Back to Zzzzzzzz? We’ll see

Asymmetric VIX

VIX Shows Volatility Still Low, But Trending

VIX Back to Low

The VIX is Asymmetric, making its derivatives an interesting hedge

Is the VIX an indication of fear and complacency?

What does a VIX below 11 mean?

What does the VIX really represent?

The VIX, my point of view

The VIX, as I see it…

Volatility Risk Premium

Declining (Low) Volatility = Rising (High) Complacency

Investors are Complacent

 

A VIX Pop Then Back to Zzzzzzzz? We’ll see

The chart and table below from Russell Rhoads at VIX Views shows an interesting visual of yesterdays increase in the VIX spot index and its futures. The chart is the VIX term structure for the VIX futures. The blue line is yesterdays term structure and the red line the day before. A term structure chart shows how the futures are priced over time. Notice the bottom goes from from left to right August 2014 to April 2015. That corresponds to the table below it, which shows the VIX (spot index) and then each months futures starting with August 2014 (the front month).

VIX Views VIX-Curve

source: http://www.cboeoptionshub.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/VIX-Curve.jpg

A Few Observations

The term structure shows how the curve shifted up yesterday. That is, the VIX futures increased August 2014 through April 2015 expiration dates. Notice the VIX spot index gained 27% while the August month gained 12%. When we speak of the VIX, we speak of the CBOE Volatility Index. We can’t actually trade the index, so exposure is gained through futures and options. This is a good time to point out how much the VIX spot index gained and how much less the futures moved. In the table below the chart you can see the % gain. The front month (August) gained 12.18%. The nearer months gained more than the expiration months farther out. I think Rhoads correctly points out that the options market seems to be expecting a quick pop in the VIX and then back to Zzzz. I say that because the August front month contacts gained 12% the months farther out in time had a much smaller increase in expected volatility. It’s another example of complacency. Investors aren’t so concerned about risk enough to pay up to insure it beyond this month. In this low vol environment over the pas year, increases in volatility have been quick and sharp, then revert back to lower levels. So the market seems to be following the trend that way. That works, until it doesn’t.

Let’s see how it plays out this time.

 

Asymmetric VIX

In The VIX is Asymmetric, making its derivatives an interesting hedge I explained how the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) tends to react with sharper and with greater magnitude than stock indexes. There is an asymmetric relationship between stock index returns and the VIX. Below includes yesterdays action when the S&P 500 stock index was down 2% and the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) spot gained 27%. The chart is a good visual of how, when the stock index falls, implied volatility spikes up.

 

asymmetric vix

source: http://www.stockcharts.com

I have been sharing some observations about the VIX recently because it had gotten do a low level not seen in many years. It’s an indication that investors have become complacent about risk. When a trend gets to an extreme, it’s interesting to observe how it all plays out.

 

 

VIX Shows Volatility Still Low, But Trending

It seemed that many of the commentators who write and talk about the VIX started talking as though it would stay down a long time. Of course, that’s as much a signal as anything that the trend could instead change.

Below is a chart of the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) since I observed “VIX Back to Low” on July 3. It says to me that volatility, is, well, volatile. It trended up as much as 34% and then retraced much of that.

cboe volatility index vix pop

source: http://www.stockcharts.com

CBOE VOLATILTY INDEX VIX

Looking back the past several months, we can see since the beginning of July it has started to make higher highs and higher lows. Volatility (and therefore some options premiums) are still generally cheap by this measure, but from the eyes of a trend follower I wonder if this may be the very early stage of higher vol. We’ll see…

Either way, whether it stays low or trends back up, the monthly chart below shows the implied volatility in options is “cheaper” now than we’ve seen in 7 years, suggesting exposures with options strategies may be a “good deal”.

long term vix

Volatility Risk Premium

Following up from “VIX Back to Low” I wrote last week, sure enough: the volatility index has gained 20%. Since last week it has been a good time to be long volatility and a bad time to be short volatility. Many professionals who trade volatility as their primary strategy mostly sell it to collect the Volatility Risk Premium. To do that, they have to be willing to experience gaps like this.

VIX CBOE VOLATILTY INDEX JULY

 

VIX Back to Low

It isn’t unusual for the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) to drop before a weekend and then pop on Monday morning. That is especially true before a long weekend for those who are concerned with Theta (time decay). Since options are deteriorating assets, their value declines over time. As an option approaches its expiration date without being in the money, its time value declines because the probability of that option being in the money (profitable) is reduced. The more time to expiration, the more time it has to be profitable. With less time, the probably is lower it will ever swing high enough. Theta is a ratio of the change (relative strength) of an option price to the decrease in time to expiration.

With that said, the VIX reached its prior low today. Here is what it looks like on a daily chart:

VIX daily 2014-07-03_16-17-30

Below we zoom in with an hourly chart for a closer view:

VIX 2014-07-03_16-16-49

You may notice the last time it reached this level it gained nearly 20% quickly. The swings in implied volatility are very significant. We’ll see next week if it does it again. Or, if it is on its way to single digits.

 

The VIX is Asymmetric, making its derivatives an interesting hedge

Asymmetric payoff VIX

The VIX is asymmetric, its distribution is non-symmetrical, it is skewed because it has very wide swings. The volatility of volatility is very volatile. There is an asymmetric relationship between stock index returns and the VIX. This asymmetric relationship is what initially makes the VIX interesting for hedging against S&P 500 volatility and losses.

Since I started the series about the extremely low VIX level Monday, like The VIX, as I see it…, The VIX has gained 17% while the S&P 500 stock index has lost about 1%. The VIX is asymmetric. While the VIX isn’t always a perfect opposite movement to the stock indexes, it most often does correlated negatively to stocks. When stocks fall, the implied (expected) volatility increases, so the VIX increases. Asymmetry is imbalance: more of one thing, less of the other. For example, more profit potential, less loss or more upside, less downside.

An advantage of the VIX for hedging is that it is asymmetric: it increases more than stocks fall. For example, when we look at historical declines in the stock index we find the VIX normally gains much more than the stock index falls. For example, if the stock index declined 5% the VIX may have gained 30% over the same period. That ratio of asymmetry of 6 times more drift would allow us to tie up less cash for a hedge position. Of course, the ratio is different each time. Sometimes it moves less, sometimes more.

When the VIX is at a low enough level as its been recently, the asymmetric nature of the VIX makes it an interesting hedge for an equity portfolio. The best way to truly hedge a portfolio is to hedge its actual holdings. That’s the only true hedge. If we make a bet against an index and that index doesn’t move like our positions, we still have the risk our positions fall and our hedge does too, or doesn’t rise to offset the loss. I always say: anything other than the price itself has the potential to stray far from the price. But the asymmetry of VIX, its potential asymmetric payoff, makes it another option if we are willing to accept it isn’t a direct hedge. And, that its derivatives don’t exactly track the VIX index, either. None of the things we deal with are a sure thing; it’s always probabilistic.

This week has been a fine example of vix asymmetry. The chart below shows it well.

 

The VIX is Asymmetric

chart source: http://www.stockcharts.com

 

Note: The VIX is an unmanaged index, not a security, so it cannot be invested in directly. We can gain exposure to the VIX through derivatives futures or options. This is not a recommendation to buy or sell VIX derivatives. To determine whether or not to take a long or short position in the VIX requires significantly more analysis than just making observations about its current level and direction. For example, we would consider the term structure and implied volatility vs. historical volatility and the risk/reward of any options combinations.

It’s official: extreme greed is driving the stock market

In Is the VIX and indication of fear and complacency? I pointed out a few reasons I believe a low VIX level can indeed be a signal of greed and complacency and a high VIX level is a measure of fear. It’s very simple: fear and greed are reflected in the price of options. When there is a strong demand for protection, the prices goes up. When there is little demand for protection, the price goes down. The recent low levels of VIX suggest a lack of fear or desire for protection from falling prices or rising vol.

I also said that the VIX levels often correspond with other sentiment levels. I have used the Fear and Greed Index before to explain how investors oscillate between the fear of missing out and the fear of losing money. After prices rise, we observe they get more greedy. For example, if they didn’t have strong exposure they may feel regret and fear missing out. After prices fall, they are afraid of losing more money. This Fear and Greed Index is published by CNN Money and is publicly available, making it useful for this purpose to illustrate how behavior drives trends. As you can see below, the current level is “Extreme Greed”, so that is the emotion driving stocks right now.

Greed index correlates with low vix

Source: CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed index

This Fear and Greed Index includes 7 different sentiment indicators. Market volatility as measured by VIX is one of them. In observing sentiment indicators like this, we see them oscillating between extreme greed and extreme fear over time. It spends a lot of time in the middle, too, but trends often reverse when it gets to extremes. When it reaches Extreme Greed, it eventually reverses down after prices peak out and reverse down. When it gets to an extreme greed level like it is now, we eventually see something come along and surprise them. I think it’s because investors become complacent and the stunned. Change is most alarming when it isn’t expected. When stocks fall, it will move toward fear as they fear losing more money. However, these measures can certainly stay extreme for longer than you think. That is the challenge to countertrend systems and thinking: trends do tend to persist, making it more difficult to bet against the wind. But when we see levels like this, we shouldn’t be so surprised when it changes direction.

 

 

Is the VIX an indication of fear and complacency?

In Declining (Low) Volatility = Rising (High) Complacency I concluded that right when investors are the most complacent, the trend changes. Prices fall, volatility spikes up. They feel more sure about things after prices have been rising, so there is less indecision reflected in the range of daily trading. When investors feel more uncertain, they become indecisive, so the range of prices spread out. That is why I believe a VIX at low levels it is now is evidence of complacency. Complacency means a person feels smug about how things are going.

In What does the VIX really represent? I explained another reason we may consider it a measure of fear or complacency. The VIX measures the cost of insurance. When there is more buying than selling in the option market, the market is buying protection, which is an indication of fear. In fact, options are most often overpriced – their implied volatility is higher than realized volatility. Option prices often reflect the premium paid for protection because of the fear of volatility or falling prices. When the VIX is low, as it is now, the cost of insurance is low and that tells us there isn’t a lot of protection buying (fear). They don’t believe volatility will be too high in the next 30 days. Of course, it’s often when people don’t expect a thing to happen that a surprise comes along.

But one indicator by itself isn’t necessarily enough to proclaim that all market participants are complacent. The VIX measures how short-term options are priced, and most investors don’t trade options, so we could say it’s mostly options traders sentiment, although there are all kinds of options traders. However, it does tend to correspond with other sentiment indicators.

If you hear someone say that VIX below 11 isn’t a big deal and isn’t a sign of complacency, well, you may consider what that means. I just said it means people are complacent, so it shouldn’t surprise you if they are. The more doubt we hear the more it confirms the belief. And, maybe they are selling vol hoping it will stay low and keep falling.

 

 

 

 

What does a VIX below 11 mean?

It means the expected forward volatility for S&P 500 stocks is 11%. That can be compared to historical volatility and realized volatility as it plays out. The VIX is determined by how put and call options are actually priced. That is, how much volatility is priced into them. It is volatility as implied by the options price.

It means that the stock market is expected to be calm. An upward trending and calm stock market is a good thing, if it will stay that way. The stock market regime has faded from an extreme range of prices during the 2008 to 2009 period and has gotten calmer and calmer as prices have trended up. After prices trend up, investors become more comfortable and less indecisive as I pointed out in Declining (Low) Volatility = Rising (High) Complacency.

When the VIX is at such a historically low level, it may be a good time to consider options instead of the underlying. And, it may be a good time to use options to hedge.

 

What does the VIX really represent?

The VIX is a gauge of S&P 500 options buying and selling. It measures the cost of insurance. When there is more buying than selling in the option market, the market is buying protection, and the VIX is higher and rising. When there is more selling than buying, the market is not seeking protection. The current level is historically low, implying investors may not be seeking protection. When the VIX is up, the cost of insurance is up. When the VIX is down, the cost of insurance is down. Options on the S&P 500 stocks are generally cheap when the VIX is low and expensive when the VIX is high. We would rather sell premium when the VIX is at higher levels, buy it at low levels. That’s how I think of it.

VIX is cost of insurance

If you wait to buy insurance when a hurricane is on its way, you’ll pay a very high premium. We want to buy it when no one expects a hurricane.

Just as it’s important for a global tactical trader to understand how markets interact with each other, it’s important to understand how volatility interacts and what drives it.

The VIX, my point of view

I believe we are naturally attracted to a strategy based on our personality. I am a trend follower most of the time, until the trend gets to an extreme. That is, I identify the directional drift of a price trend and intend to go with it. If it keeps going, I’ll usually stay with it. If it reverses the other way, I’ll exit. I completed scientific research over a decade ago that led to what I believe, and I have real experience observing it. I prefer to ride a trend until the end, but I notice when they start to bend. Or, maybe when it becomes more likely.

Before it bends, I may start expecting the end. I usually notice certain things that alert me the end is nearing. If you walk outside and throw a ball into the air you may notice something happens before the ball comes back down. Its rate of change slows down: its slope changes. The line drawn with a price chart isn’t unlike a line we may draw illustrating a ball travel.

trend like a ball

So, I’m not naturally attracted to “mean reversion” as most investors would define it. I point this about because when I do deal with mean reversion its only when its meaningful. When a stock, commodity, currency, or bond drops, I don’t necessarily expect it to “go back”. I find that many people do. They think because a trend drops it will snap back. They only need to be wrong about that once to lose a lot of money. You may remember some famous money managers who kept increasing their risk as losses where mounting during the 2000 – 2003 period or 2007 – 2009 period. It not stocks it was real estate.

My beliefs and strategies aren’t based on just my natural inclination, but instead based on exhaustive quantitative research, empirical observations, and real experience. I want to determine the direction of a trend and go with it for that reason, and then take note when one goes to extreme. The VIX reaching its lowest level since 2007 is such an extreme, though it could certainly stay low for longer than anyone expects.

Some people love hearing about potential reversion, so they’ll naturally be drawn to the CBOE Volatility Index. I’ll be the first to say that is not my main attraction. My natural state is more the cool high performance Porsche that is in demand rather than the ugly car no one wants, but is cheap. Though a cool Porsche at the right price is a good thing. Demand is ultimately the driver of price trends in everything, including listed options.

When we speak of the CBOE Volatility Index we are talking about a complicated index that measures the premium paid for options on the S&P 500 stocks. Robert Whaley of Vanderbilt University in Tennessee developed the CBOE Market Volatility Index for the Chicago Board Options Exchange in 1993. He had published a paper in the Journal of Derivatives with a self-explanatory title as to the intent: “Derivatives on Market Volatility: Hedging Tools Long Overdue,” which appeared in The Journal of Derivatives.

We can talk about all kinds of pricing theories and option pricing models that drive option prices and the VIX, but at the end of the day, the driver really is supply and demand.That’s what makes it my realm of expertise.

I trade volatility, and VIX derivatives specifically, for profit and for hedging So, I am not normally a writer about it, or in options sales (like a broker), but instead a fund manager who buys and sells for a profit. When I think of volatility and the VIX, I think of how I can profit from it, or how it may help me avoid loss.

That’s where I’m coming from.

The VIX is at a point we don’t see very often, so it’s a good time to take a close look.

 

%d bloggers like this: