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Archive for the ‘VXX’ Category

How to Cash in on the Crash of VIX:

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Last week, VIX fell to as low as we have seen in four years.  I believe this has created a short-term buying opportunity.  Option prices (volatility) should be headed higher (in my opinion). 

How to Cash in on the Crash of VIX:  

As most of you know, VIX is the volatility measure based on option prices of the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY. Last week, it had fallen all the way to 15.45, about the lowest level we have seen in several years. 

VIX is the so-called “fear index,” and historically has moved higher when there was uncertainty (or lower stock prices) in the market.  Back in 2007, a VIX this low was probably appropriate.  The stock market had been on a slightly-upward flattish direction for many months, and there was little unrest in our domestic economy or around the world.  In 2008 when markets imploded, VIX rose as high as 80.

Today, there seems to be uncertainty all over the place.  Some people are talking about the possibility of a double dip recession, while others focus on escalating oil prices, high unemployment, and most of all, a melt-down in several European countries that might have a domino effect on our economy.

So where has all the market fear gone?  There are a huge number of uncertainties in the current economic world, both at home and abroad, and the market seems to be ignoring them. 

Over the years, VIX has shown a strong inclination to revert to the mean, and the mean is 20.54.  I think it is inevitable that VIX will climb back up toward, or above, 20 in the near future.  If this is the case, how can you benefit from it?

A Time to Buy VXX? This stock (actually an exchange-traded note, ETN) is highly correlated to VIX.  It is based on the futures of VIX which are generally closely related to VIX.  It closed yesterday at $13.20, the lowest price in quite a long time.  About six months ago (when VIX was in the 30’s), VXX traded in the low $40’s).

On one hand, I believe that it is highly unlikely to go much lower, and on the other, I expect that some unforeseen event will surely come along at some point to spook the market and send VIX and VXX sharply higher.

There is one serious shortcoming of owning VXX, however.  Due to the way it is constructed, something called contango reduces its value every month that the futures for VIX remain unchanged.  For this reason, the only time that it is a good idea to buy VXX is when VIX is unusually low (and there are reasons to believe that it is headed higher).

An ETN that benefits every month from contango is the inverse of VXX.  It is called XIV (the inverse of VIX).  Last October, when XIV was trading about $6.70 (and VIX was in the 30’s), I made a major investment in VIX (and made an impassioned plea to my subscribers to do the same).  Now that VIX is less than half what it was then, last week I sold most of my holdings for more than $13, almost doubling my money over that period.  With VIX so low, I believe that there is a better chance that XIV will suffer from a rising VIX than there is that it will benefit from the contango tailwinds that it usually enjoys.  (When VIX moves over 20, I will probably buy XIV once again).

On last Friday when the market fell by almost 1%, VIX rose from 15.45 to 16.27 (5.3%) and VXX rose from $12.55 to $13.20 (5.2%) to give an idea of the potential gain for VXX if option volatility moves back to its mean average of 20.54.

Another way to play VXX is to buy the stock and write a call against it, or at least against some of it.  With VXX trading at $13.20, an August 14 call could be sold for $.74 which would give you a 5.6% gain for one month if the stock doesn’t change, or an 11.6% gain if it closes above $14, the call you sold is exercised, and you lose the stock.  Either scenario does not seem so bad for a single month. 

The key assumption here is that VXX is quite unlikely to trade any lower than it is right now.  I believe that this is a reasonable assumption to make.  While it might trade lower temporarily, history says that it won’t stay down there for long.

VXX has been recognized as one of the best hedges against a falling market.  Some analysts have stated that a $10,000 investment in VXX will protect a $100,000 market portfolio of stock (although my estimate is that it would take about a $25,000 investment to accomplish that).  Once again, however, because of the contango issue, when VIX is at or above the mean of 20.54, it is generally not a good idea to buy VXX unless you strongly believe that uncertainty, and option prices, are headed higher.

In any event, I think VXX is a good short-term buy right now as a bet that option volatility will rise as things in Europe start spooking the market once again (in spite of the contango issue that will depress its value somewhat).

Choose an Option Strategy Based on Actual vs. Implied Volatility

Monday, October 31st, 2011

It is important to differentiate between the implied volatility of option prices and the actual volatility of the underlying stock or ETF.  It is not an easy task to recognize when the two measures deviate from one another, but if you can identify a difference, huge gains can be made with the proper option strategy.

Today we will discuss how you can capitalize on any differences that you might be able to find.

Choose an Option Strategy Based on Actual vs. Implied Volatility: 

 
Last week the European debt crisis was apparently averted, at least in the eyes of option investors.  VIX, the so-called “fear index”, the average implied volatility of option prices on the S&P 500 tracking stock (SPY) fell dramatically to just below 25 (still above its mean average of about 20 but well below the 40+ it has sometimes been at during the previous month).

When option prices are high (i.e., implied volatility, VIX) is high, there are huge gains possible by writing call options (not our favorite ploy) or buying calendar spreads (our favorite most of the time).  However, when actual market volatility is greater than the expected volatility (i.e., implied volatility of the option prices), writing calls or buying calendar spreads is generally unprofitable.

Over the last three months, we have had great difficulty making gains with our calendar spreads because actual market volatility was too great.  On the other hand, we have had some luck with buying straddles (or strangles), a strategy of buying both a put and a call on the same underlying and hoping that there is a big fluctuation in either direction.

Last Wednesday, after following VXX (a “stock” that is based on the futures of VIX), we noticed that actual volatility was huge – it had fluctuated $2 or more almost every single day for several weeks.  On Wednesday in one of our portfolios we made a small ($1400) buy of 5 VXX 43 puts and calls which would expire two days later.  We paid $279 per straddle.  When the market for VXX opened up sharply lower on Thursday, we sold the straddle for $596, netting 117% after commissions.

In another portfolio where we owned calendar spreads on VXX, we lost money.  Our results in these two portfolios clearly demonstrated that when high actual volatility occurs, you do best by buying short-term options, either puts or calls depending on which way you believe the market is headed, or both puts and calls if you admit you really don’t know which way it will go (as we usually do).  On the other hand, when actual volatility is low, calendar spreads deliver higher returns.
Now that much of the uncertainty facing the market has subsided a bit, we believe it is time for the calendar spreads to prosper once again as they have for most of the past few years (since late 2008 extending up to August of this year).

Using Options to Hedge Market Risk

Monday, September 12th, 2011

Another crazy week in the market.  Investors vacillated from panic to manic and back to panic.  The net change for the week was not so significant, but the fluctuations were huge.  How can you cope with a market like this?

You might consider using options to hedge against market moves in both directions.  Check out how two of our portfolios are doing it.

Using Options to Hedge Market Risk   

Some Terry’s Tips subscribers choose to mirror in their own accounts one or more of our actual portfolios (or have trades executed automatically for them by their broker).  We recommend to that they select two portfolios, one of which does best in an up market and one that does best in a down market.

Almost all of our portfolios do best if not much of anything happens in the market, but that has not been the case in the last few weeks.  It is during times like this that both a bullish and bearish portfolio be carried out at the same time.

We have one bearish portfolio.  It is called the 10K Bear.  It is currently worth about $5000 (although we have withdrawn $2000 from it to keep it at the $5000 level for new subscribers – it had gone up in value by 54% over the last couple of months while the market was weak).

Here is the risk profile graph for the 10K Bear portfolio.  It shows how much the $5000 portfolio should gain or lose by the regular September options expiration this Friday at the various possible ending prices for SPY (currently trading just under $116): 

Using Options to Hedge Market Risk

  

Some Terry’s Tips subscribers choose to mirror in their own accounts one or more of our actual portfolios (or have trades executed automatically for them by their broker).  We recommend to that they select two portfolios, one of which does best in an up market and one that does best in a down market.

Almost all of our portfolios do best if not much of anything happens in the market, but that has not been the case in the last few weeks.  It is during times like this that both a bullish and bearish portfolio be carried out at the same time.

We have one bearish portfolio.  It is called the 10K Bear.  It is currently worth about $5000 (although we have withdrawn $2000 from it to keep it at the $5000 level for new subscribers – it had gone up in value by 54% over the last couple of months while the market was weak).

Here is the risk profile graph for the 10K Bear portfolio.  It shows how much the $5000 portfolio should gain or lose by the regular September options expiration this Friday at the various possible ending prices for SPY (currently trading just under $116):



Remember, this is an actual brokerage account at thinkorswim which any paying Terry’s Tips subscriber can duplicate if he or she wishes.  The graph shows that if the stock stays absolutely flat next week, there could be a gain of over $1000 for the week.  If the stock should fall by $2, an even higher gain should result.  (Once the stock falls by $2, we would likely make some downside adjustments so that further drops in the stock price would generate higher gains.  After all, this is our bearish bet.)

Where else could you expect a 20% gain if the market doesn’t move one bit?  In a single week?  Or even more if the market should fall?

Admittedly, today’s option prices are extremely high (in 92% of the weeks over the last 5 years, option prices have been lower than they are right now, so we are in truly unusual times).  The risk profile graphs for our portfolios usually do not look as promising as they do right now.

One of the bullish portfolios that we recommend to be matched against the 10K Bear portfolio is called the Ultra Vixen.  This portfolio is based on the underlying “stock” (actually an ETN, an exchange traded note) called VXX.  This index is based on the short-term futures of VIX (the measure of SPY option prices, the so-called “fear index”).  When the market drops, VIX generally rises (as do the VIX futures prices), and VXX usually moves higher.  Over the last month while the market dropped over 10%, VXX has more than doubled in price.  For that reason, many people consider VXX to be an excellent hedge against market crashes.

We don’t like VXX as an investment possibility, however.  Over time, due to a mechanism called contango (futures prices become more expensive in further-out months), VXX is destined to fall over time.  It may be a good hedge as a short-term investment but is awful as a long-term holding.  It fell for 12 consecutive months last year, for example, even though VIX fluctuated in both directions.

Our Ultra Vixen portfolio is set up to benefit when VXX goes down (which it does when the market is flat or goes up).  We generally maintain a net short position on VXX with some call positions for protection in case the stock does go up.  However, our portfolio does best if the market stays flat or moves higher, so it is a good hedge against the 10K Bear portfolio.

Here is the risk profile graph for Ultra Vixen for next Friday’s expiration (September 16th).  It is a $10,000 portfolio and the underlying stock (VXX) is trading about $45.83:





The graph shows that a 10% gain for the week is possible if the stock falls as much as $3 or goes up by as much as $2.  (Historically, in about half the weeks, VXX fluctuates by less than a dollar in either direction.)  Where else besides options do you find opportunities like this?  In a single week?

Both the 10K Bear and Ultra Vixen portfolios should make excellent gains every week when the market is flat, and one or the other should make gains when the market moves more than moderately in either direction.  Theoretically, if the two portfolios together break even in the high-fluctuation weeks and they both make gains when the market doesn’t do much of anything, the long-run combined results should be extraordinary.

Unusual Option Opportunity Using VXX

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

As you probably know, VIX is a volatility index, a measure of the implied volatility of the option prices on the S&P 500 tracking stock, SPY. VIX is often called the “Fear Index” since it tends to rise when the market falls or investors are concerned about the future.  When VIX is high, option prices in general are high, and vice versa.

Unfortunately, you can’t trade VIX.  It is just a measure of how high option prices are.  However, another instrument was created that is designed to mirror VIX, and you can trade this one.  It is an ETN called VXX.  Its value is derived from the futures prices of VIX and is supposed to be highly correlated with the volatility measure VIX.

Since VIX typically rises when the market (SPY) falls, VXX has been promoted as a good hedge against a stock portfolio.  Several months ago when VIX was about 16 and VXX was trading about $28, I recommended VXX as a good buy because I did not believe that VIX would trade much lower than 16, and if the two were highly correlated, that meant that VXX was unlikely to fall by very much.

At last Friday’s close, VXX was at $25.24 while VIX was at 21.85.  Over the past several months since I made my recommendation, VXX had fallen 10% while VIX had risen 35%.  That certainly is not a positive correlation.  I was bamboozled by the reports that said they were highly correlated.

I thought it would be interesting to compare the two instruments over time. Check out the graphs of the two equities for the past year:

VIX for Last 12 Months

 

 

VXX for Last 12 Months

Can you find any correlation between these two equities?  VIX has fluctuated in both directions throughout the year while VXX has done nothing but consistently move lower. In fact, last year VXX had to do a reverse 4-1 split of its shares so it would still have enough value to continue trading. While it looks from the chart that VXX traded about $120 a year ago, it was actually at only $30 (when the reverse 4-1 split took place on October 26, 2010).  The chartists had to multiply those old numbers by 4 to get them on the same scale as the current numbers.

The bottom line:  VXX is clearly a real dog, and seems destined to fall no matter what VIX does.

True, when VIX shoots higher, VXX follows right along, but VXX consistently fails to hang onto those higher numbers, even if VIX remains at the higher level.

The VXX chart suggests that selling the stock short might be a good investment idea.  I have personally done some of that, in fact. One problem may be that it might be difficult to short VXX.  Schwab (and other brokers) have VXX on their “Hard to Locate” list for borrowing to cover the short sale.  So far, I have not had problems shorting it at thinkorswim (although once I had to telephone in the order because the electronic order was rejected).

An even greater opportunity exists, however, at least in my opinion, using options.  We have created a portfolio at Terry’s Tips to carry out an option strategy for paying subscribers to mirror (or have trades executed automatically for them through the Auto-Trade service that thinkorswim offers).

Here is the risk profile graph for that portfolio for the July 16, 2011 expiration, less than four weeks from now:

This graph shows the theoretical loss or gain from a $10,000 portfolio based on VXX (currently trading at $25.24).  If the stock is at this exact same price on July 16th, the portfolio should gain about 8%.  If it falls into the $23 – $25 range, the gain should be about 10%.  On the upside, a profit should result at any stock price that is less than $28.

Since most months, VXX has steadily declined in price, it seems to us that this portfolio has a very good chance of making 100% a year if that price behavior continues into the future.

I invite you to join our service and participate in this investment opportunity along with us.  This is not just a theoretical exercise.  I have my own money riding in it, as I believe in it totally.

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