CBOE SKEW Index Rises to 141.41, with Increased Demand for Portfolio Protection

FEB. 16, 2017 – Today the CBOE SKEW Index rose to 141.41, its highest level this month, and its 25th highest value since January 1990. With U.S. stock market indexes recently hitting all-time highs, there is quite a bit investor uncertainty about the markets and there is high demand for protection from large market declines. In the 27 years from 1990 through 2016, the average daily level for the SKEW Index was 118.4, and the average level of SKEW never topped 130 in any of those 27 years. In the year 2017 (through February 16) the average daily level of the SKEW Index was a relatively high 132.2, which could indicate increased relative demand for use of out-of-the-money SPX put options for portfolio protection.

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 expected tail risk of S&P 500 returns. If there were no tail risk expectations, SKEW would be equal to 100. Historically, SKEW has varied in a range of 100 to 147 around an average value of 115.

The FAQ on the CBOE SKEW Index notes that –

“The price of S&P 500 skewness is inconvenient to use directly as an index because it is typically a small negative number, for example -.8, -2.3, or -4.3. SKEW converts this price as follows: SKEW = 100 – 10 * price of skewness. With this definition, a price of -2.1 translates to a SKEW value of 121. S&P 500 options with 30 days to expiration are generally unavailable. SKEW is therefore interpolated from two “SKEW” values at the maturities of nearby and second nearby options with at least 8 days left to expiration.”

For more information please visit www.cboe.com/SKEW.

Portfolio Protection, Tail Risk and 11 Histograms

With U.S. stock market indexes recently hitting all-time highs, there is quite a bit investor uncertainty about the markets and there is high demand for protection from large market declines. One metric providing evidence of this high demand is the CBOE SKEW Index (SKEW). In the 27 years from 1990 through 2016, the average daily level for the SKEW Index was 118.4, and the average level of SKEW never topped 130 in any of those 27 years. In the year 2017 (through February 7) the average daily level of the SKEW Index was a relatively high 131.7, which could indicate increased relative demand for use of out-of-the-money SPX put options for portfolio protection.

Histograms and Profit-and-Loss Diagrams

Tools that can be helpful to investors who are attempting to assess the utility of various options-based strategies include (1) histograms with analyses of monthly returns for several CBOE benchmark indexes, and (2) profit-and-loss diagrams.  CBOE provides more than 30 strategy benchmark indexes that can help investors compare and contrast the hypothetical performance of different options strategies in different market scenarios. www.cboe.com/benchmarks.

Below are 11 histograms that compare past performance of CBOE option-related benchmark indexes and related stock indexes. These histograms can provide valuable information to investors who have high aversion to losses or a desire for more upside potential.

As shown in the 11 histograms below, the “best” big-loss-avoidance past performance by an index — in terms of avoiding monthly losses of 6% or more – was by the CBOE S&P 500 Iron Butterfly Index (BFLY). In the 30+ year period from July 1986 through January 2017, the number of months that indexes had loss of worse than 6% were –

The CBOE VIX Tail Hedge Index (VXTH) buys and holds S&P 500 stocks, and also often buys 30-delta call options on the CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX®).

 

The CBOE S&P 500 Iron Butterfly Index (BFLY) tracks the performance of a hypothetical option trading strategy that 1) sells a rolling monthly at-the-money (ATM) S&P 500 Index (SPX) put and call option; 2) buys a rolling monthly 5% out-of-the-money (OTM) SPX put and call option to reduce risk; and 3) holds a money market account invested in one-month Treasury bills, which is rebalanced on the option roll day and is designed to limit the downside return of the index. Compare the CBOE BFLY Index histogram above with the iron butterfly profit-and-loss diagram below. It appears that certain iron butterfly strategies could have the potential to lessen the probability of huge upside and downside moves.

 

The CBOE S&P 500 95-110 Collar Index (CLL) purchases stocks in the S&P 500 index, and each month sells SPX call options at 110% of the index value, and each quarter purchases SPX put options at 95% of the index value.

 

The CBOE S&P 500 Risk Reversal Index (RXM) is a benchmark index designed to track the performance of a hypothetical risk reversal strategy that: (1) buys a rolling out-of-the-money (delta ≈ 0.25) monthly SPX Call option; (2) sells a rolling out-of-the-money (delta ≈ – 0.25) monthly SPX Put option; and (3) holds a rolling money market account invested in one-month Treasury bills to cover the liability from the short SPX Put option position.

The CBOE S&P 500 Zero-Cost Put Spread Collar Index (CLLZ) tracks the performance of a hypothetical option trading strategy that 1) holds a long position indexed to the S&P 500 Index; 2) on a monthly basis buys a 2.5% – 5% S&P 500 Index (SPX) put option spread; and 3) sells a monthly out-of-the-money (OTM) SPX call option to cover the cost of the put spread.

The CBOE S&P 500 Iron Condor Index (CNDR) tracks the performance of a hypothetical option trading strategy that 1) sells a rolling monthly out-of-the-money (OTM) S&P 500 Index (SPX) put option (delta ≈ – 0.2) and a rolling monthly out-of-the-money (OTM) SPX call option (delta ≈ 0.2); 2) buys a rolling monthly OTM SPX put option (delta ≈ – 0.05) and a rolling monthly OTM SPX call option (delta ≈ 0.05) to reduce risk; and 3) holds a money market account invested in one-month Treasury bills, which is rebalanced on option roll days and is designed to limit the downside return of the index.

 

 

 

With the at-the-money (A-T-M) buy-write strategy, an investor often takes in more options premium, but has no participation in stocks’ upside moves, when compared with the out-of-the-money (O-T-M) buywrite strategy. Compare right and left tails for the BXM Index above versus the BXMD Index below.

MORE INFORMATION

A representatives of Wilshire will discuss CBOE Benchmark indexes and downside risk at the 33rd Annual CBOE Risk Management Conference (RMC) next month www.cboermc.com.

For additional information about the CBOE benchmark indexes and related white papers on portfolio management, please visit www.cboe.com/benchmarks.

More information on tail risk and histograms is at www.cboe.com/histograms.

#CBOEhistograms

Finding Volatility in the US Markets

VIX is low, we all know VIX is low.  I type that and feel I need to stop channeling Dr. Seuss.

However, there are some pockets of volatility in the US equity markets, we just need to know where to look.  Since CBOE quotes several volatility indexes that are based on the US markets I went searching for places where the market is still pricing in a little concern about the future.  Two areas that stood out –  tail risk and small cap risk.  Let’s start with tail risk.

The CBOE SKEW index is a measure that takes out of the money put option volatility and compares it to the implied volatility of SPX put options that are not as far out of the money.  If SKEW is equal to 100 then the out of the money IV is in line with that if SPX puts with strikes closer to the levels of the S&P 500.  SKEW is typically around 120 or so and came in at 130 yesterday.  I like looking at volatility measures relative to other volatility measures and the outcome for SKEW appears in the chart below.  This chart shows the daily levels for SKEW divided by VIX going back to 1990.  Note it rarely moves over 12, but that’s where it is right now.  This may be read as out of the money stock market protection is expensive relative to the cost of at the money SPX options.

VIX vs SKEW

The second area of high volatility relates to small cap stocks in the US.  CBOE quotes VIX, but we also have the CBOE Russell 2000 Volatility Index (RVX) which gives us a consistent measure of Russell 2000 (RUT) implied volatility like VIX does for the S&P 500.  With a handful of exceptions RVX has always closed at a premium to VIX.  However, it rarely is at more than a 60% premium to VIX like it is as I write this blog.  We can take that as option premiums for RUT options are relatively expensive when compared to SPX options or that traders are more willing to pay up for small cap protection than large cap protection.

VIX vs RVX

Weekend Review – Volatility Indexes and ETPs – 2/5/2017

VXST dropped while the other three volatility indexes based on S&P 500 index option pricing rose slightly.  This all happened despite a rise in the S&P 500 last week.

VXST VIX VXV VXMT

Probably the most notable thing on the table below is the rise in VVIX despite the stock market and VIX not doing much last week.

VXX Table

Focusing on the VIX related ETPs shows that the trend of short volatility being the place to be in 2017 continues to hold up.

VXX SVXY UVXY Comparison

Looking outside the broad-based index volatility space, there were a lot of gainers despite not a lot going on in the equity markets.  There doesn’t seem to be any pattern among the gainers, just a variety of pockets of higher volatility.

Vol Indexes

On Monday I came across what appears to be the first of a two-step trade.  With VXX around 20.00 someone came in and sold 200 of the VXX Feb 3rd 21 Calls for 0.30 and purchased 200 VXX Feb 10th 31 Calls for 0.05 resulting in a net credit of 0.25.  Friday VXX closed well below the short strike, which leads me to believe whoever still owns the VXX 31 Call that has a week until expiration may be using that position to sell another call if they still have a short bias with respect to VXX.

Weekend Review – VIX Futures and Options – 2/5/2017

VIX rose slightly last week while all standard futures contracts lost value.  February settlement is a week and a half off so the longer VIX remains in the 10’s the more drift lower we should expect out of the front month future.

VIX Term Structure Table

As the front month starts to approach settlement date, VIX option traders start to focus on farther dated contracts, normally rolling to the following month.  However, it seems skipping March is in vogue among VIX traders with many of last week’s block trades looking to April.  This week’s trade review involves a common structure often discussed in this space.

Mid-morning Wednesday, a trader decided to sell VIX Apr 13 Puts 0.65, purchase the VIX Apr 17 Calls for 1.72 and complete the trade by selling the VIX Apr 22 Calls for 1.00.  The trade size was 13,500 contracts at a net debit of 0.07.  The outcome for this trade, if held to expiration, appears below.  Of course a volatility spike would probably result in some trading around this position.

VIX PO

 

Demand for Disaster Protection Increases as CBOE SKEW Index Hits a Six-Month High – By Matt Moran

JAN. 18, 2017 – Today the CBOE SKEW Index (SKEW) closed at 143.43, its highest value since June 2016. 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.

SKEW Jan 18

The FAQ on the SKEW Index notes that –

“The price of S&P 500 skewness is inconvenient to use directly as an index because it is typically a small negative number, for example -.8, -2.3, or -4.3. SKEW converts this price as follows: SKEW = 100 – 10 * price of skewness.  With this definition, a price of -2.1 translates to a SKEW value of 121. S&P 500 options with 30 days to expiration are generally unavailable. SKEW is therefore interpolated from two “SKEW” values at the maturities of nearby and second nearby options with at least 8 days left to expiration.”

HIGHER SKEW VALUES IN RECENT YEARS

The average value of SKEW (since the beginning of its data history in 1990) has been 118.4. Prior to 2014, the highest average daily closing value in a year for the SKEW Index was 122.5, but in each of the years 2014, 2015, 2016, and year-to-date 2017, the average daily closing level for the SKEW Index was 127.5 or higher.

 SKEW since 1990 through Jan 18

30 ½ YEARS — BENCHMARK INDEXES AND SPX PUT OPTIONS

For investors who wish to learn more about hypothetical long-term performance of strategies that use index options, CBOE provides more than 30 strategy benchmark indexes. Note in the two charts below that the left tail risk was higher for the S&P 500 Index than it was for two indexes that use SPX put options – the CBOE S&P 500 PutWrite Index (PUT) sells cash-secured SPX options, while the CBOE S&P 500 5% Put Protection Index (PPUT) buys out-of-the-money protective put options on the SPX Index.

3 - PUT Histogram

4 - PPUT Histogram

MORE INFORMATION

For more information on skew and use of options for protection and income, please visit www.cboe.com/SKEW and www.cboe.com/benchmarks.

Weekend Review – VIX Options and Futures – 1/15/2017

Last week VIX managed to finish the day below the 2016 closing low (11.27) twice.  If it were only Friday’s close I’d throw an asterisk in there for the three-day weekend effect, but there’s no holiday excuse for the Wednesday close of 11.26.

This past week they (whoever ‘they’ are) couldn’t get enough of February VIX Calls.  On Friday, paper bought over 60,000 VIX Feb 21 Calls for 0.49.  On Thursday, there were three block trades of over 20,000 contracts each in the VIX Feb 22 Calls paying 0.48 or 0.49.  Wednesday morning there was a purchase of 98,228 VIX Feb 22 Calls for 0.47 and on Tuesday there was a block purchase of 99,400 VIX Feb 21 Calls at 0.48.  On Monday, there wasn’t any huge action in those two strikes.  At minimum it appears one or more big traders scooped up over 150,000 of the Feb 21 and 22 Calls last week.  One side effect of this demand for VIX calls is a rise in VVIX which gained over 10 points last week, despite the drop in VIX or maybe because of the low level of spot VIX.

This sort of divergence showed up a few times last year, where VVIX started to move up and then VIX followed a short time later.  We will see if this pattern is repeated over the next couple of weeks.

Weekend Review – Volatility Indexes and ETPs – 1/15/2017

There are two lines below although it may appear that there is only a purple line for parts of the VXST – VIX – VXV – VXMT curve.  In a round about way I’m saying not a lot happened in the world of S&P 500 option volatility last week.

What really stands out on the table below is the price action of VVIX which rose over 12 points to finish the week over 90.  There were large buyers of February VIX call options last week which contributed to the rise in VVIX.

With VIX being under pressure and the futures falling this year, VXX and UVXY have lost pressure and SVXY has worked higher.

Along with VIX, most volatility indexes have lost value this year and moved lower last week.  VVIX is on exception and BPVIX is another as Brexit looms over the Pound.  Also, note the next three are individual stock volatility indexes which are rising in anticipation of earnings announcements.

As noted above, the first two weeks of 2017 have not been kind to VXX.  I decided to see if any VXX option traders benefitted from the great volatility crush of 2017.   Back on December 30th of last year, like that is really a long time ago, there was a buyer of 300 of the VXX Jan 13th 25.50 Puts for 1.29.  The open interest has remained at steady levels so it is safe to assume this trader held the position through this past Friday.  VXX finished the week at 21.45 placing the VXX Jan 13th 25.50 Puts 4.05 in the money and a profit of 2.76.

Weekend Review – VIX Options and Futures – 1/8/2017

With the stock market kicking off 2017 on a bullish note VIX tested the 2016 closing low finishing the week 0.05 above last year’s low of 11.27.  The futures followed suit, especially the January contract which goes off the board two days before the 45th man to ascend to the presidency does so on January 20th.

I was checking in on the Weekly VIX futures and options activity last week and came across an interesting set of numbers.  The chart below highlights the at-the-money implied volatility for VIX options expiring each week through February 15th.  I found the two ‘bumps’ to the upside interesting with respect to known unknowns on the horizon.  Note the first move higher occurs between the January 18th and January 25th contracts which expire just before and after inauguration day.  The next step up occurs between February 1st and the 8th.  The next FOMC announcement occurs the afternoon of the 1st which is just hours after Feb 1 VIX futures and options expire and the next monthly employment number comes out on the 3rd.

Mid-day on Friday VIX was looking like it wanted to finish the week with a 10 handle.  Two traders came in and took advantage of the very low VIX (11.08 at the time) and purchased two call spreads using standard January options.  The first trade involved a purchase of the VIX Jan 18th 13.50 Calls for 0.43 and selling the VIX Jan 15.00 Calls at 0.23 for a net cost of 0.20.  A few minutes later there was a purchase of the VIX Jan 18th 15.00 Calls at 0.23 which was matched up with a sale of the VIX Jan 18th 17 Calls for 0.12 or a net cost of 0.11.  The payoff diagram below shows outcomes for each trade if held through settlement on the morning of the 18th.  The 13.50 / 15.00 spread appears in blue while the 15.00 / 17.00 spread shows up as the red line.

vix-po

Weekend Review – Volatility Indexes and ETPs – 1/8/2017

S&P 500 implied volatility was lower across all four time periods that are measured by CBOE Volatility Indexes last week.  VXST finished the week at 9.19 which is actually a tad higher than the low for 2016.  VIX also finished near the 2016 low of 11.27 but finished 0.05 above that level.  As a Trump presidency looms over the markets, with all the rhetoric and fear of what this means for the world, it’s a bit amazing market volatility is so low.

The table below shows volatility under pressure in all places except bonds as TYVIX gained 4.44% which also made it the biggest gainer among volatility indexes quoted by CBOE last week.

We got a reset on the VXX – SVXY – UVXY performance chart, but with volatility remaining low all week SVXY already has a 40% lead on UVXY after just four trading days.

Even through there were a lot of red numbers associated with volatility last week, I was able to find a bullish VXX trade from Friday.  With VXX at 21.97 there was a buyer of the VXX Jan 20th VXX 23.00 Calls who then sold the VXX Jan 20th 24.50 Calls for 0.28 and a net cost of 0.24.  The payout if we get a resurgence of volatility and VXX over 24.50 on the close in two weeks is 1.26.

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