Stocks quoted in this article:
We get some questions on Twitter, sometimes even related to the CBOE Market Volatility Index (INDEXCBOE:VIX).
"...Seems most of your post [sic] on the VIX stuff is negative biased expecting lower moves. When it jumps you do the same?"
It's a fair point. I imagine I come off as bearish on volatility with a tendency to read every sporadic sign of VIX strength as unsustainable and ultimately bullish for the market.
My guess is that most of us with an options background view volatility in a similar light. That is, it tends to mean-revert. But I don't want to put words in people's mouths, so let me just speak for myself.
I view VIX in two time frame -- a very long-term macro sort of picture and a very short-term technical picture. The longer term is somewhat figurative. As I've mentioned before, the VIX tends to move within "up" and "down" regimes that last something like four to six years each. It is very inexact, but in my opinion, we are something like two-to-three years into a down regime. The last "up" regime started in early 2007 and lasted about four years.
Again, this is all imprecise, bigger-picture stuff.
Shorter term, I look at moving averages, mostly the 10-day simple moving average (SMA). If the VIX moves 20% above its 10-day SMA, I consider that overbought, and conversely I consider 20% below the 10-day oversold. Funny thing about "oversold" though -- it hardly ever happens. And even when it does, it just highlights complacency, and complacency is a lousy market timer. So let's forget about oversold.
As a Mean Reversion-ist (if that's a word), I look at upside deviations as a contrary tell. So if the VIX shoots 20% over the 10-day (or whatever criteria you use -- Bollinger Band violations work fine as a proxy, too) I consider that overdone and likely to reverse. And since the market generally moves in opposition to the VIX, that would get me bullish on the market in the shorter term.
But then I put that into the context of the longer-term picture in the VIX. If the VIX itself resides in an "up" regime, then I don't find much signal in shorter-term VIX getting overbought. It is simply consistent with the underlying market, and is the same principle as reading less into excess call volume in an up stock than I would in a down stock. In a down stock, I'd read the excess call volume bearishly (i.e. everybody's looking for a bottom, which means its probably not happening just yet).
As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, I believe the VIX remains something like halfway through a "down" regime. Thus I consider these sporadic VIX pops as contrary tells and short-term bullish for the market. VIX isn't exactly flying lately, but it's not dropping despite the fact that the market remains strong.
Look … at some point the longer-term VIX will turn. I doubt I knew that the VIX pop in February 2007 would ultimately signal a sea change. But it's only obvious in hindsight, so until then, I'm going to look for mean reversion when the VIX pops.
Disclaimer: The views represented on this blog are those of the individual author only, and do not necessarily represent the views of Schaeffer's Investment Research.