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Volatility and Stuff

With the situation on the Korean Peninsula threatening to give us another 9 years of MASH and with our own politician desperately trying to find relevance on the world stage by injecting themselves into the crisis I thought it might be interesting to see how markets viewed what was going on. Markets traditionally respond to uncertainty with a lift in volatility – this lift reflects not only the uncertainty but also the need to be compensated for the risk associated with this uncertainty. If things are really bad then markets lift volatility across the board. So to see if this was happening I took a small snapshot of major markets, looked at their 30 day historical volatility and then compared that with their long term average volatility.  I have marked those markets that are currently experiencing relatively low volatility in blue. The results of my straw poll can be seen in the table below.

HV Comp

Intriguingly the worlds largest market doesn’t seem to think much of the crisis, nor does gold which is usually seen as a barometer of such things. As to what these means I have no idea and historical precedents are not much help since it offers a slightly different picture. At the outbreak of the original conflict in 1950 volatility went through the roof  but during the Cuban missile Crisis which our idiot politicians are trying to compare it to only had an increase in volatility after the crisis ended and markets were recovering.

So what does it all mean? I have no idea but since it is only observational and not predictive it doesn’t really matter.

 

 

YTD Performance

As we sail past the half way point of the year I thought I look in the rear view mirror might be interesting to see how a few select markets have performed. There are no prizes for guessing that the local market has been shit.

ytd

 

Once Upon A Time

Sometimes I feel sorry for traders/investors who need to construct a narrative as part of their investment process. Whilst you are cocooned inside your own delusional story you would never know whether your story is the right one and is the one the market has chosen. As an example consider the year to date moves of various indices from around the world.

Index Performance YTD

As might be expected there are a range of performances but what is interesting to me is that if you look at the US markets in isolation you see something interesting. The Russell 3000 and S&P500 are doing better than the benchmark index. This positive performance seems quite obvious when you drop in the performance of the VIX – the so called fear index.

Index Performance_VIX

The VIX has had a somewhat precipitous drop since the beginning of the year. As such the narrative could go volatility (uncertainty) has leaked out of the system therefore investors feel more comfortable with equities. Sounds reasonable, however, there is always someone who will spoil a good story. Consider the chart below  is of the ETF GLD and the Dow since the US election in November. GLD tracks the spot price of gold so it serves as a useful proxy.

Dow_GLD Since Election

Throughout November the gap in performance between the Dow and GLD widened – this would fit our existing narrative of the market being more settled therefore there is no need to set in place a hedge via gold. However , this story starts to change as Trumps profound lack of suitability as President  becomes obvious and the performance gap narrows. If we shrink the time frame down to YTD only then the Trump idiot premium widens.

Dow GLD YTD

All of a sudden we have a wrinkle in our narrative. The original narrative was uncertainty has left the system, investors are happy and buying equities but hang on the performance of gold which is traditionally seen as a hedge instrument is improving. WTF is going on?

This is the issue with narratives they are simply stories designed to make us feel better about our decisions as such they are equal parts post-dictive error, self justification  and comfort food. Hence, they are largely meaningless.

 

Well Here It Comes

In line with the notion of January predicts the direction if the not the quanta of the year ahead here is a rundown of the January gains or losses for various markets. Make of it what you will….if anything…..

January

What is more interesting to me is what I perceive to be a dislocation between perception and reality. The market commentary I have had the misfortune to hear lately has spoken about the sudden rise in volatility in the market. The basis for this judgement has been a bit of a jump in the VIX over the last trading period. Of course completely ignoring the fact that the VIX has been meandering around at historically low levels for the past three months. It is worth noting what the VIX measures before assigning any weight to it.

According to CBOE’s marketing blurb –

The CBOE Volatility Index® (VIX® Index) is a leading measure of market expectations of near-term volatility conveyed by S&P 500 Index (SPX) option prices. With the introduction of the VIX® Index in 1993, followed by the launch of trading of VIX futures at CBOE Futures Exchange (CFE) in 2004 and VIX options at CBOE in 2006, there has been a growing acceptance of trading VIX and VIX-linked products as risk management tools.

VIX options and futures enable investors to trade volatility independent of the direction or the level of stock prices. Whether an investor’s outlook on the market is bullish, bearish or somewhere in between — VIX options and futures can provide the ability to diversify a portfolio or hedge, mitigate or capitalize on broad market volatility.

That is the VIX is a measure of other peoples perception, granted this is arrived at by looking at changes in volatility expectations implicit within options pricing. So the VIX really doesn’t measure market expectations and hence one of the major criticisms I have of it. It is simpler to default to actually looking at what the current historical volatility of an instrument is.

DJHV

This is the Dow with a simple 15 day historical volatility plotted and as you can see since July of last year the peaks in volatility have been dropping and the post electio bump has been a time of very stable volatility.

Index Correlations

For my own curiosity I decided to have a quick look at the price correlations of a handful of world indices. Those correlations that are below 0.5 I have coloured red.

Index Correlations

As expected most share a positive correlation with the only true diversification coming from the Shanghai Composite. This does pose a conundrum for index traders since it causes difficulties with diversification in the traditional sense. However,these are price correlations not return correlations. If I get some time I will redo this as returns table and see what the difference is.

No Man Is An Island

So said John Donne and the same is true of markets. One of the most fascinating features of trading is that markets at times they display interesting interrelationships and that these relationships tell you something about the underlying emotional state of the market. Below are three markets I am currently involved in and all seem at this point in time to be telling a story about how the market is currently coping with a President – Elect who seems to have the IQ of a trout and the stability of a slinky falling down Mt Everest.

Markets

As  personal disclaimer I am currently long gold, short the USD in various iterations and my short term Dow system just threw me out from my last long position. So this is my story so it reflects my internal bias. What is interesting is that the Dow didn’t power through 20,000. I remember when it hit other “significant” numbers and it just burst straight through – there was no prevarication or hesitation. Yet at the same time the Dow paused gold began to move up and the USD Index began to move down. Whilst is is interesting to try an assemble a narrative from this – it is easier to simply trade the charts and let others build a narrative as to what they mean.

As a final point it is worth looking at how a few major markets have performed YTD – as you can see precious metals seem to be doing a fair bit of heavy lifting.

YTD

 

The Year That Was.

It is that time of the year when everyone involved in this business looks in the rear vision mirror and attempts to make sense of what happened.  And of course to everyone involved everything is so obvious and predictable. What is worse is that they take this data and attempt to make some form of prediction about the year ahead. Hindsight is all we have and whilst it is the perfect investment tool; we are denied its luxury in the real world. Even looking at a league table of performance of various instruments is somewhat meaningless. However, since they are all the rage below is one such table I quickly knocked up for a few common instruments.

League Table

Part of the problem is that these tables are looked at from the perspective of the buy and hold investor. It is assumed that you simply bought one of everything last year and held onto it and your performance either good or bad is a function of this. However, this is not how trading works. For example the AUD/USD began the year with a 15% gain, which is then gave back and settled into a meandering decline resulting in its ordinary year on year performance. Likewise all the gain in heating oil came in the first half of the year. Conversely, cocoa which turned in a shocker traded in a range for most of the year and then collapsed in October.

Whilst it is twee to say so in trading only the journey counts not the destination, in fact I would go a little bit further and say that even the starting point is irrelevant. As such tables such as the one above whilst vaguely interesting are essentially irrelevant to us.

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