In recent weeks several news articles have noted that the CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX®) dipped below 10, and have asked if there is an unusual amount of complacency in the markets. The VIX Index closed below 10 on seven straight trading days (an all-time record) from July 13 to July 21. Recent headlines stated (1) “Too calm? Wall Street volatility collapses to lowest since 1993” (by CNBC), and (2) “Dip in volatility stirs warnings about too much complacency” (by Pensions & Investments).
IS THERE TOO MUCH COMPLACENCY IN THE MARKETS?
I believe that an argument could be made that the markets still are concerned about downside risk, and are not completely complacent in 2017, particularly if one looks at the statistics in three charts below: (1) the CBOE SKEW Index already has closed above 145 on 10 days in 2017 (more than any other calendar year); (2) a recent SPX volatility skew chart showed that the implied volatility estimates for many of the out-of-the-money put options ranged from 11 to 27, and (3) a recent VIX futures term structure chart showed VIX futures prices (with expirations at future dates) ranged from 10.35 to 16.
CBOE SKEW Index values, which are calculated from weighted strips of out-of-the-money S&P 500 options, rise to higher levels as investors become more fearful of a “black swan” event — an unexpected event of large magnitude and consequence. The value of SKEW increases with the tail risk of S&P 500 returns. If there were no tail risk expectations, SKEW would be equal to 100.
SPX VOLATILITY SKEW CHART – SHOWS DEMAND FOR DOWNSIDE PROTECTION
The volatility skew chart below shows the implied volatility estimates for SPX options at the close on Friday, July 21. On that date the closing values were 2472.54 for the SPX Index, 9.36 for the CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX®) (the second-lowest daily close for the VIX Index), and 134.53 for the CBOE SKEW Index (SKEW). The long-term average daily closing values since January 1990 are 19.5 for the VIX Index and 118.7 for the SKEW Index.
The SPX volatility skew chart below shows:
- Expirations on 26 upcoming dates in 2017 (including Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and end-of-months) are available for SPX options; and
- The implied volatility estimates for at-the-money SPX options ranged from around 5 to 12, and the implied volatility estimates for many of the out-of-the-money put options (with strike prices from 2230 to 2404, and that can be used for downside portfolio protection) were often much higher, with a range from around 11 to 27. With the SKEW Index at 134.53, one can expect generally higher implied volatilities for out-of-the-money SPX put options, when compared with at-the-money SPX options.
VIX FUTURES TERM STRUCTURE – RANGE FROM 10.35 TO 16
The VIX futures term structure chart is upward sloping and shows that the VIX futures prices ranged from 10.35 (for the July 26 expiration) to 16 (for the VIX futures expiring on February 14, 2018).
In order to gain a better sense of the amount of overall fear or complacency in the markets, analysts and investors can examine and compare many metrics, including the VIX Index, SKEW Index, volatility skew charts, and VIX futures term structure.