Vix (volatility index)

The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility index (Vix for short) reflects how volatile traders expect the market to be over the coming year.

The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility index (Vix for short) was created in 1992 by finance professor Robert Whaley, based on the academic work of Menachem Brenner and Dan Galai.

The Vix is calculated using the weighted average prices of various options on the S&P 500 index. Options give buyers the right (but not the obligation, hence the name) to buy ("call") or sell ("put") the index at a certain price. So they can be used to bet on the market moving in one direction, or to "hedge" a portfolio against short-term adverse moves.

One factor affecting option prices is the expected level of volatility (the more volatile the market, the more likely it is that the option will end up "in the money" ie, worth something). So the Vix reflects how volatile traders expect the market to be over the coming year broadly speaking, above 30 represents high volatility, while below 20 suggests calm.

Some argue that the Vix works well as a contrarian indicator a low Vix indicates that traders expect calm conditions to continue, and are thus overly complacent, suggesting that stocks should fall (leading to the nickname, "the fear gauge"). However, most studies have shown the Vix to be a coincident indicator (ie, it shows what's happening right now) rather than any use as a forecasting tool, contrarian or otherwise.

Equally, the Vix can rise alongside stocks sharp moves can happen to the upside as well as the downside. One problem with trying to trade the Vix is that exchange-traded products that are "long" the Vix tend to lose money over time, because of the cost of "rolling over" the underlying futures contracts on which they are built. This is one reason why shorting the Vix has become so popular. However, this carries its own risks, which will only become ever more important as less experienced traders pile in.

Recommended

Modern monetary theory (MMT)
Glossary

Modern monetary theory (MMT)

Modern Monetary theory, or MMT, has become popular on the left, both in the UK and abroad. (Wags say that it stands for "magic money tree".) 
21 Sep 2020
Price to sales ratio
Glossary

Price to sales ratio

A company's market cap divided by the company's annual sales (or revenue) gives us the price/sales ratio.
28 Aug 2020
Too embarrassed to ask: what is a p/e ratio?
Too embarrassed to ask

Too embarrassed to ask: what is a p/e ratio?

Find out how to use the price/earnings ratio (p/e ratio for short) – a useful starting place for investors looking to value a company.
26 Aug 2020
Stock split
Glossary

Stock split

A stock split increases the number of a corporation's issued shares by dividing each existing share.
21 Aug 2020

Most Popular

Will a second wave of Covid lead to another stockmarket crash?
Stockmarkets

Will a second wave of Covid lead to another stockmarket crash?

Can we expect to see another lockdown like in March, and what will that mean for your money? John Stepek explains.
18 Sep 2020
Here’s why you really should own at least some bitcoin
Bitcoin

Here’s why you really should own at least some bitcoin

While bitcoin is having a quiet year – at least in relative terms – its potential to become the default cash system for the internet is undiminished, …
16 Sep 2020
James Ferguson: How bad data is driving fear of a second wave of Covid-19
UK Economy

James Ferguson: How bad data is driving fear of a second wave of Covid-19

Merryn and John talk to MoneyWeek regular James Ferguson about the rise in infections in coronavirus and what the data is really telling us.
17 Sep 2020