Measuring the volatility expansion

To no surprise, we are observing a volatility expansion.

I say it isn’t a surprise, because I shared my observation on July 28th in Is volatility setting up for an expansion? the following:

I’m not going to be surprised if we see a VIX volatility expansion this week along with the range of stock prices spreading out.

There are plenty of potential catalysts that could drive volatility and uncertainty higher for those who need a story driving it.

This morning, the CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX® Index®) is trending 20% to 21.20, which is its long term historical average. As I pointed out before, it was at 12 when I pointed out the possibility of a volatility expansion. I didn’t expect to see it just because it was at a low level of 12, but instead because there was no shortage of potential catalyst that could cause prices to spread out into a wide range from indecision.

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. Since its introduction in 1993, theVIX®Index has been considered by many to be the world’s premier barometer of investor sentiment and market volatility.

The VIX has gained 76% since I shared the observation.

Is there a way to trade this volatility? Yes, there is, and it’s easier said than done. Tactical traders can trade VIX options, futures, ETFs, or the ETN. I share the below chart for informational purposes only. It’s the iPath® Series B S&P 500® VIX Short-Term FuturesTMETN charted along with the VIX index and does not necessarily represent any position I have taken. As you can see, it has gained 27% over the past week as the VIX gained 76%, but past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results. In fact, trading the VXX is very tricky and timing is everything.

A deep dive into VXX and long volatility ETFs is beyond the scope of my mission here as I just want to show a simple example of “long volatility” for asymmetric hedging. The succinct reason the VXX didn’t track the VIX index perfectly is because he Index offers exposure to a daily rolling long position in the first and second month VIX futures contracts and reflects market participants’ views of the future direction of the VIX index at the time of expiration of the VIX futures contracts comprising the Index. Owning the ETNs is not the same as owning interests in the index components included in the Index or a security directly linked to the performance of the Index. For additional information including the risks associated with VXX and ETNs, please see the VXX prospectus. The bottom line is, to successfully trade the VXX is beyond simply trading its price trend, it also requires understanding its roll yield issues and the VIX term structure.

While CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX® Index®) is a measure of market expectations of near-term volatility conveyed by S&P 500 stock index option prices, I use other measures to observe actual, realized, historical volatility.

Below is the S&P 500 stock index with bands of standard deviation. As you can see, the red arrow shows the price has spread out below the lower volatility band. These volatility bands normally contain the range of price, until it doesn’t. In this case, the volaltity is measured by the standard deviation, so this is a simple observation of the standard deviation shortfall. A price trend can and does trend beyond its normal range.

Bollinger Bands Volatility Expansion SPX $SPY $SPX

In the next chart, I use channels that represent a band of the average true range. In this case, the average true range is adapting more responsive by spreading out faster, so the SPX price trend is still within its lower channel as the price trends down.

Keltner Channels ATR SPX $SPX volatility expansion

The bottom line is, we’re seeing a volatility expansion as I suspected we could.

We’ll see where it goes from here…

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

Mike Shell and Shell Capital Management, LLC is a registered investment advisor and provides investment advice and portfolio management exclusively to clients with a signed and executed investment management agreement. The observations shared on this website are for general information only and should not be construed as advice to buy or sell any security. Securities reflected are not intended to represent any client holdings or any recommendations made by the firm. Investing involves risk including the potential loss of principal an investor must be willing to bear. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All information and data is deemed reliable, but is not guaranteed and should be independently verified. The presence of this website on the Internet shall in no direct or indirect way raise an implication that Shell Capital Management, LLC is offering to sell or soliciting to sell advisory services to residents of any state in which the firm is not registered as an investment advisor. Use of this website is subject to its terms and conditions.


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.


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.


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


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.



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