Guest post by Sober Look.
The ISI Group combined four US regional Fed indices with Markit Manufacturing PMI to create a comprehensive US manufacturing index (chart below). A pattern of growth starts followed by fairly sharp corrections emerges. Some have speculated that this volatility, at least in part, can be explained by the Eurozone uncertainty flare-ups: Greece (2010), Italy (2011), Spain (2012). The pattern also exists in the economic surprise indices (see post-1 and post-2).
Several years before the financial crisis descended on us, I put forward the concept of “black swans”: large events that are both unexpected and highly consequential. We never see black swans coming, but when they do arrive, they profoundly shape our world: Think of World War I, 9/11, the Internet, the rise of Google.
In economic life and history more generally, just about everything of consequence comes from black swans; ordinary events have paltry effects in the long term. Still, through some mental bias, people think in hindsight that they “sort of” considered the possibility of such events; this gives them confidence in continuing to formulate predictions. But our tools for forecasting and risk measurement cannot begin to capture black swans. Indeed, our faith in these tools make it more likely that we will continue to take dangerous, uninformed risks.
Of all the issues discussed in this space, undoubtedly the one that captures the imagination of most readers is the subject of VIX-based exchange-traded products. I get more questions about the construction of these products, how they respond to the VIX futures term structure, what factors influence performance, etc.
For these reasons I thought it might be instructive to update my VIX ETP landscape chart and include performance data from the September 14th market closing high of SPX 1465 to today’s close of SPX 1377. During that period, the SPX declined 6.0% on a close-to-close basis, while the VIX jumped 27.4% during the same period.
So how did the VIX ETPs fare while the market was selling off?
In examining the graphic below, the first thing you probably notice is that only 5 of the 19 VIX ETPs were able to manage gains during the selloff. In fact the average (mean) VIX ETP performance was a disappointing -4.9%, while the median return was -6.7%. Even more interesting, the inverse volatility products actually outperformed their long volatility counterparts and had the top performer of all, the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Medium-Term ETN (ZIV).
What about that “extreme” reading of VIX term structure. Bill Luby of Vix and more starts the explanation process.
Before I dive into a series of posts about the VIX futures, I think it is important to add some context in the form of several observations about the relationship between the VIX and the historical volatility (HV) of the S&P 500 index. In the absence of any information about the future, it turns out that historical volatility (a.k.a. realized volatility or statistical volatility) can provide a reasonably accurate measure of future volatility. In fact, it is more difficult than one might imagine to incorporate information about the future to come up with a better estimate of future volatility than what can be gleaned just by extrapolating from recent realized volatility.
Looking at historical data, the VIX has an established history of overestimating future realized volatility. In fact, in the 23 years of VIX historical data, there was only one year – 2008 – in which realized volatility turned out to be higher than that which was predicted by the VIX.
As the chart below shows, early traders made a habit of dramatically overestimating future volatility. From 1990-1996, for instance, the VIX overshot realized volatility by an average of 49%. Since 1997, the magnitude of that overshoot has dropped dramatically, to about 24%, as investors apparently began to realize that they had been overpaying for portfolio protection in particular and for options in general.
Guest post by Marc Chandler of Marc to Market.
Our concern then is that Q4 is going to be more volatile that is currently implied and that has directional implications for the dollar. Many longer-term investors believe the US fiscal cliff and debt ceiling issues are the biggest risks facing the world economy. Others are more concerned about the unresolved European debt crisis an the signs of prolonged economic weakness.
The global financial markets walk on the razors edge of empiricism and what you see is not what you think, and what you think may very well be impossible anyway. The impossible object in art is an illustration that highlights the limitations of human perception and is an appropriate construct for our modern capitalist dystopia. Famous examples include Necker’s Cube, Penrose Triangle, Devil’s Tuning Fork, and the artwork of M.C. Escher. The formal definition is “an optical illusion consisting of a two-dimensional figure which is instantly and subconsciously interpreted as representing a projection of three- dimensional space even when it is not geometrically possible” (1). The fundamental characteristic of the impossible object is uncertainty of perception. Is it feasible for a real waterfall to flow into itself; or for a triangle to complete itself in both directions? The figures are subject to multiple forms of interpretation challenging whether our naïve perception is relevant to understanding the truth. The impossible object is of vast importance to mathematics, art, philosophy and as I will argue… modern pricing of risk.
Modern financial markets are a game of impossible objects. In a world where global central banks manipulate the cost of risk the mechanics of price discovery have disengaged from reality resulting in paradoxical expressions of value that should not exist according to efficient market theory. Fear and safety are now interchangeable in a speculative and high stakes game of perception. The efficient frontier is now contorted to such a degree that traditional empirical views are no longer relevant.
The volatility of an impossible object is your own changing perception.
Guest post by Peter Tchir.
I had a strong, even visceral, reaction to the Fed’s announcement Thursday. I was wrong in that I thought they would back down with stocks at highs, housing showing some signs of stability, high gas prices, some real potential ECB intervention in Europe, etc. I was wrong. I was also wrong when I thought the initial muted reaction was a sign that aggressive QE was priced in.
I’ve been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again but something about this really bothers me. I disagree so strongly with the Fed’s decision that I need to take that “anger” into account as I think about the markets and what to do next, so I’m going to try and separate my thoughts in “heart” or what I feel, “head” or what I think, and “gut” or that idea lurking below the surface that is what I should go with since “heart” is too emotional and angry, and “head” is overly compensating for that.
The QE3 Announcement
I disagree with the decision to announce QE. There seemed to be enough going okay that the Fed should have allowed the economy to continue to find its own footing. There is little evidence that QE has been helpful for the economy. QE1 helped a lot, QE2 I’m not so sure about, and what we don’t know, is what the economy would look like now had we not used the Fed’s balance sheet so aggressively. Would we be in better shape now? We just don’t know the answer to that. I can’t help but feel that this is Ben doggedly pursuing a policy he “knows” is right because he wrote the book on it and is very smart. Like a trader with a losing position, here is an academic who just can’t cut his losses. He knows he is right, and he is going to push for it. I think this is as much about personal vindication as anything else. He thinks he knows better than anyone else. He has all these equations that tell him it should work. His stubborn belief in the wealth effect is just wrong. Not only hasn’t it worked, but there are some pretty obvious reasons why it won’t work. Stocks are owned largely by a class who has savings, and isn’t increasing spending based on wealth effect. People are too smart to change business plans when they know the only support central bank policy. The narrow view of “wage inflation” is the only inflation also strikes me as wrong and is where ivory tower illusions cross with Marie Antoinette’s “let them eat cake”. I hate the decision and think it was unnecessary and potentially dangerous.
Market thoughts by John Hussman of Hussman funds.
For investors who don’t rely much on historical research, evidence, or memory, the exuberance of the market here is undoubtedly enticing, while a strongly defensive position might seem unbearably at odds with prevailing conditions. For investors who do rely on historical research, evidence, and memory, prevailing conditions offer little choice but to maintain a strongly defensive position. Moreover, the evidence is so strong and familiar from a historical perspective that a defensive position should be fairly comfortable despite the near-term enthusiasm of investors.
There are few times in history when the S&P 500 has been within 1% or less of its upper Bollinger band (two standard deviations above the 20-period moving average) on daily, weekly and monthly resolutions; coupled with a Shiller P/E in excess of 18 – the present multiple is actually 22.3; coupled with advisory bullishness above 47% and bearishness below 27% – the actual figures are 51% and 24.5% respectively; with the S&P 500 at a 4-year high and more than 8% above its 52-week moving average; and coupled, for good measure, with decelerating market internals, so that the advance-decline line at least deteriorated relative to its 13-week moving average compared with 6-months prior, or actually broke that average during the preceding month. This set of conditions is observationally equivalent to a variety of other extreme syndromes of overvalued, overbought, overbullish conditions that we’ve reported over time. Once that syndrome becomes extreme – as it has here – and you get any sort of meaningful “divergence” (rising interest rates, deteriorating internals, etc), the result is a virtual Who’s Who of awful times to invest.
PIMCO shares some thoughts on how to construct your portfolio in this “new” normal.
- Asset classes are likely to be affected by the situation in Europe and, more broadly, by high debt levels in developed countries. The related political debate about austerity vs. growth is also critical.
- Fixed income investors should note whether countries control their own currencies and can monetize their debts. Those that can may be greater inflation risks. Those that cannot may be greater credit risks.
- These factors are contributing to market volatility and lower returns, which in turn are challenging investor expectations about asset classes.
- We encourage investors to broaden their opportunity sets, for example, looking more closely at emerging market government bonds. They also may consider assets such as real estate and commodities, which may partially replace traditional domestic equities.