Deciding What to do Next

Years ago I had a meeting with my manager regarding three projects that I was responsible for. Each of the projects had considerable technical problems, tight deadlines, and were short on resources. In the course of the conversation, I asked my boss what his priorities were on the projects. He said all three projects had number one priority. Aargh… Absent useful guidance from others, how …

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Goodbye VXXB, We Hardly Knew Ye

Effective May 2nd, VXXB and VXZB, Barclays’ short- and medium-term volatility funds will be renamed to VXX and VXZ.  This is a market maneuver by Barclays to recapture the brand value of the original, very successful, VXX and moderately successful VXZ products introduced in 2009.  The original products matured in January 2019 so Barclays had to create VXXB and VXZB as replacement products. However, there’s …

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What Caused the Volatility Tsunami on 5-Feb-2018?

In the afternoon of February 5th, 2018, what looked like a bad day for a group of high flying volatility-based products turned into a devastating decline.  Four factors combined to ruin their day: A Flawed Architecture Relying on the Past to Predict the Future Billions Under Management A Record-Breaking VIX® spike Twenty-five minutes before the close of the New York Stock exchange on February 5th, …

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Goodbye VXX, Hello VXXB

Update 2-May-2019 As Eli Mintz of VIX Central predicted, Barclays changed the tickers for VXXB and VXZB back to VXX and VXZ. This change is effective 2-May-2019. As I note below in the post, Barclays has done this sort of thing before to preserve the branding of a popular product. I doubt the ticker changes will fix one thing that Barclays lost with the VXX-VXXB …

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Using the VIX Futures Term Structure to Predict Volatility ETP Prices

Status quo forecasting is sometimes very easy to do.  For example, if you predict that tomorrow’s high temperature will be the same as today’s high, your estimate will be close to the actual high much of the time.  Predicting volatility Exchange Traded Products (ETP) prices is not so straightforward.

The VIX futures that volatility ETPs like VXX, SVXY, UVXY, and TVIX track are similar to stock options in that they have a time value that usually decaying.  Generally the longer the VIX future has until expiration the higher its price.  If you plot VIX futures prices versus time until expiration the chart often looks like the one below from VIX Central.  This curve is called the VIX Futures Term Structure.

The term structure curve can be relatively stable for significant periods of time—which raises the question of whether we can use the term structure to predict volatility ETP prices.

Even if the price vs time curve of the VIX Futures stays exactly the same, several underlying factors that impact the prices of the volatility ETPs are in a state of change.  For example:

  • The individual VIX future’s prices change as they approach expiration
  • The mix of VIX futures that determines the ETP values changes based on their time to expiration and their prices
  • The position size of VIX Futures held by the leveraged ETPs (e.g., TVIX, UVXY, SVXY, VMIN, ZIV) changes on a daily basis based on the previous day’s percentage moves

Assuming the VIX futures term structure is stable (including the Cboe’s VIX spot price) allows us to project how much decay/gain is “built-in” to the prices of the long/inverse volatility ETPs. This information can help us set strike prices for option strategies, set limit prices, and determine risk/reward parameters.  More than 80% of the time, the VIX Future Term Structure is in a configuration called contango, where futures with more time until expiration are priced higher than the “spot” VIX price.  While in contango, decay factors on long volatility funds like VXX, UVXY, and TVIX can be considerable as can the boost factors on inverse funds like SVXY, VMIN, and ZIV.

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