By the Numbers: Go Long On Top of VIX Blahs?

VIX has sat at 'subnormal' levels for a whopping 71 days

by Adam Warner

Published on Jun 25, 2015 at 9:02 AM
Updated on Jun 24, 2020 at 10:16 AM

As I'm sure you know from watching financial TV, we're in the midst of a boom in volatility, the likes of which we haven't seen since…

OK, maybe not. I believe I'm mistaken. We're on the cusp of a volatility boom! Same as it ever was. 

Anyway, it got me thinking: What does it mean going forward when the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) has sat at subnormal levels for an extended period of time? Seventy-one days is a very extended period of time, and testing that wouldn't yield results in large enough sample size, since we don't tend to stay this low for this long.

So I tested the following: What happens next when VIX closes below 16 for 30 straight trading days (six weeks, give or take some holidays)? I looked at SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) returns 21 trading days and 64 trading days (about one and three months) into the future from AFTER a VIX close below 16 for the 30th straight day. 

I intended to go back to the beginning of 2000, but there were no 30-day VIX streaks closing under 16 between January 2000 and October 2004, so instead I went back to July 1, 2004. And here are the results, compared with the results of randomly buying and holding for one and three months.

150625Warner 

And as you can see, your returns are actually better when you go long on top of extended VIX blahs in both the one-month and three-month time frames. 

There's no great signal here' it's just a general principle that it's very tough to time complacency. As we all know, everybody wants to call the Grand VIX Turn, but the best-odds call is on "The Present Trend Continues." VIX is below 16 for "X" number of days in a row precisely because the market itself isn't particularly volatile. It's not predicting the future so much as it's reflecting the recent past. And the action in the recent past is more likely to persist than it is to change direction on a dime. 

Everybody knows these calm market times won't last forever -- its' not bold to get on TV and state the obvious. The problem is that in the real world it costs real money to try to time the Next Great VIX Pop. We've seen perpetually overpriced VIX futures, constant rolls of out-of-the-money VIX calls, et. al. Someone will catch the actual turn, but that someone probably ate many bad bets before he or she finally landed a great one. 

Disclaimer: Mr. Warner's opinions expressed above do not necessarily represent the views of Schaeffer's Investment Research.


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