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Update on Last Week’s SVXY Volatility Trade

Last week I suggested buying two calendar spreads on the inverse volatility ETP called SVXY.  At the time, it was trading at $58 and history showed it was highly likely to move higher in the short run.  It didn’t.  Instead, it has fallen to below $46 today.  Anyone who followed this trade (as I did) is facing about a 75% loss right now.

Today I would like to discuss this trade a bit more, and tell you what I am doing about it.

Terry

Update on Last Week’s SVXY Volatility Trade

As I said last week, the market is going crazy.  VIX, the so-called Fear Index, skyrocketed to 40 last week, something it hasn’t done for over 2 years.  It has fallen to about 28 today, and if history is any indicator, it is headed for the 12 – 14 level where it has hung out for the large part of the past two years.

Here is the two-year chart of VIX so you can get an idea of how unusual the current high level of volatility is:
XIV Chart September 2015

XIV Chart September 2015

Note that about 90% of the time, VIX is well below 20.  When it moves higher than that number, it is only for a short period of time.  Every excursion over 20 is quickly reversed.

There is a strong correlation between the value of VIX and the price changes in SVXY.
When VIX is low (or falling), SVXY almost always moves higher.  When VIX shoots higher (or stays higher), SVXY will fall.  Over the past month, SVXY has fallen from the low $90’s to about half of that today.  Never in the 7-year history of this ETP has it fallen by such a whopping amount.

SVXY is constructed by trading on the futures of VIX.  Each day, the ETP purchases at the spot price of VIX and sells the one-month-out futures.  Since about 90% of the time, the futures price is greater than the spot price (a condition called contango), SVXY gains slightly in value.  The average contango number is about 5%, and that is how much SVXY is expected to gain in those months.

Every once in a while (less than 10% of the time), current uneasiness is so high (like it is today), VIX is higher than the futures values.  When this occurs, it is called backwardation (as opposed to contango).  Right now, we have backwardation of about -8%.  If this continued for a month, SVXY might be expected to fall by that amount.

However, backwardation is not the dominant condition for very long.  It rarely lasts as long as a week.  It is highly likely that contango will return, VIX will fall back below 20, and SVXY will recover.

Let’s review the trades I made last week:

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 60 call (SVXY151002C60)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 60 call (SVXY150904C60) for a debit of $3.35  (buying a calendar)

Buy To Open 1 SVXY Oct1-15 65 call (SVXY151002C65)
Sell To Open 1 SVXY Sep1-15 65 call (SVXY150904C65) for a debit of $3.30  (buying a calendar)

For every two spreads I bought, I shelled out $665 plus $5 in commissions, or $670.

Here is what the risk profile graph says these positions will be worth at the close in 10 days when the short calls expire next Friday:

SVXY Risk Profile Graph September 2015

SVXY Risk Profile Graph September 2015

The chart shows that if the stock fell below $46 (as it has today), the spreads will lose nearly $500 of the $670 cost.  That is just about what has happened. In fact, implied volatility (IV) of the SVXY options has fallen from about 100 to about 90 which means the value of the Oct1-15 calls has also fallen a bit that the above graph indicates.  The 60 spread could be sold right now for about $1.20 and the 65 spread would get only about $.65.  That works out to a loss of about $480 on a $670 investment (about 75% after commissions).

While a 75% loss is just awful, remember that we expected to make 90% on these spreads if the stock had ended up between $60 and $67 as we expected it would (and we would presumably have rolled the Sep1-15 expiring calls to future weekly series and increased our gain to well over 100%.

Every once in a while, the market does exactly the opposite of what you expected (or what historic experience would predict). This is one of those times.  Fortunately, they occur in far less than 50% of the time.  If you made this same bet on a number of occasions, over the long run, you should make excellent gains.

This time, you either have a choice of closing out the spreads or doing nothing, just hanging on (waiting for a resurgence of SVXY and being able to sell the remaining Oct1-15 calls at a higher price).  If you do sell the spread rather than letting the short Sep1-15 calls expire worthless today, be sure to use a limit order.  Most of the time, you should be able to get a price which is just slightly below the mid-point of the quoted spread price.  Options on SVXY carry wide bid-ask ranges, but spreads are usually possible to execute near the mid-point of the quoted prices.

I plan to do nothing today.  Even if I decide to sell Sep2-15 or Sep-15 calls against my long Oct1-15 positions, I will do it later (once SVXY has moved higher, as it should when the market settles down and VIX falls back to where it usually hangs out).

The spreads I suggested making a week ago have proved to be extremely unprofitable (at least so far).  But taking losses is a necessary part of option trading.  There are often big losses, but big gains are also possible (and oftentimes, probable).

 

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