1. Option Volatility: Introduction
  2. Option Volatility: Why Is It Important?
  3. Option Volatility: Historical Volatility
  4. Options Volatility: Projected or Implied Volatility
  5. Options Volatility: Valuation
  6. Option Volatility: Strategies and Volatility
  7. Option Volatility: Vertical Skews and Horizontal Skews
  8. Option Volatility: Predicting Big Price Moves
  9. Option Volatility: Contrarian Indicator
  10. Options Volatility: Conclusion

By John Summa, CTA, PhD, Founder of OptionsNerd.com

Like with other measures of market sentiment, implied volatility (IV) can be used to gauge how extreme investor moods have become and to better anticipate major market turning points. In this segment of the options volatility tutorial, we'll present some examples of how IV levels, using the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) index, relate to past and future price moves.

While the examples presented here are weekly close prices, higher frequency analysis can be applied as well. That is, VIX or IV levels on stocks can be tracked in shorter time frames (including intraday) to identify short-term oversold and overbought conditions, where reversions to a short-term mean of implied volatility frequently occur. Therefore, applying a contrarian approach has the potential to yield above-average returns.

IV as a Measure of the Investor Crowd
The VIX index is a popular gauge of investor moods and, as seen in Figure 18, can swing wildly quite frequently. It measures how expensive the options on the S&P 500 stock index are. You can find historical data available for download at the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE).

Copyright © 2007 Investopedia.com
Figure 18: VIX implied volatility index since 1990. Note the extreme spikes above 40 during the worst periods of the bear market during 2000-2002. VIX rises sharply as investor fear intensifies.

When investors are fearful, and markets are bearish, VIX will rise. When fear recedes, VIX declines. However, long-term low levels of the VIX have been associated with bull markets, where VIX at extreme lows signaled a major market advance, as seen in Figure 19. In 1994 and 2004, VIX remained below 20 and the market developed significant bullish trends. (To learn more, read Getting a VIX On Market Direction.)

Introduced in 1993, VIX has grown to become one of the most popular gauges of investor sentiment and the volatility of the stock market. VIX is a measure of implied volatility, capturing the market's expectation of 30-day volatility implied by the near-term options on the S&P 500 Index. (For more on this, see Volatility - The Birth Of A New Asset Class.)

Copyright © 2007 Investopedia.com
Figure 19: S&P 500 alongside levels of VIX. Here it is possible to see how price and volatility relate to each other. Typical of most big cap stocks that mimic the market, when price declines, volatility (VIX in this case) rises and vice versa.

VIX reacts to sharp drops in the S&P 500, as seen in Figure 19. During each of the major market meltdowns (1997, 1998, 2001, 2002), VIX ran up sharply, signaling a market bottom was near. While VIX was created in 1993, because options have traded since the early 1980s, it was possible to back-build the VIX index (see the CBOE's website for a complete downloadable history). During the 1987 market crash, the VIX increased to levels above 100, hitting an intraday level of 172.79 on October 20, 1987. This number is based on S&P 100 options, not S&P 500 options. The VIX methodology was changed in 2003 to use S&P 500 options instead of S&P 100 options.

Because VIX has a long-term trend cycle to it, however, the best way to view the VIX is with moving averages. Figure 20 presents VIX with moving averages (10- and 50-day moving averages), which allows for better identification of short-term extreme levels when markets are overbought or oversold, irrespective of any longer term levels.

Copyright © 2007 Investopedia.com
Figure 20: Daily VIX and S&P 500 price charts. When the VIX 10-day moving average moves too far away from the 50-day moving average, the S&P 500 typically experiences a correction, as indicated by the small black arrows.

As seen in Figure 20, spikes of the VIX are smoothed with a 10-day moving average. As the 10-day moving average moves above the 50-day moving average, the market conditions are clearly turning bearish. And as the 10-day moving average moves below the 50-day moving average, the market conditions are clearly turning bullish. But when the deviation of the 10- and 50-day is stretched (different measures can be used to define "stretched"), a reversion to the mean occurs as the 10-day moving average returns back to the level of the 50-day moving average. This cycling of sentiment is a good contrarian indicator and can be used for better timing of market swings.

In this segment of the volatility tutorial, the VIX implied volatility index for S&P 500 index options is explained and presented. It was shown how the two indexes (VIX and S&P 500) move inversely and that with the application of different moving averages to daily VIX prices, it is possible to identify overbought and oversold regions of the S&P 500. This contrarian method provides a basis for better timing of the market for investors.

Options Volatility: Conclusion

Related Articles
  1. Trading

    Understanding the CBOE Volatility Index

    The VIX shows the market’s volatility expectations for the next 30 days.
  2. Investing

    Assessing The VIX in Q1 2016

    Discover how the VIX Index, or "fear gauge," began 2016 above the historical mean, and learn how this relates to past spikes in volatility.
  3. Trading

    Introducing The VIX Options

    Discover a new financial instrument that provides great opportunities for both hedging and speculation.
  4. Trading

    Determining Market Direction With VIX

    The CBOE's volatility index is a helpful market indicator. Learn how it can gauge the mood of the stock market.
  5. Investing

    The Volatility Index: Reading Market Sentiment

    Using the Volatility Index can be essential for investing success.
  6. Trading

    Strategies To Trade Volatility Effectively With VIX

    VIX offers a bird’s eye view of real-time greed and fear, while providing a snapshot of the market’s expectations for volatility in the next 30 days.
  7. Trading

    Using Moving Averages To Trade The Volatility Index (VIX)

    VIX moving averages smooth out the natural choppiness of the indicator, letting traders and market timers access reliable sentiment and volatility data.
  8. Investing

    How to Profit From Market Volatility Using ETFs (VXX, VIX)

    Volatility funds offer exposure to high greed and fear levels while avoiding predictions on price direction.
  9. Investing

    4 Ways To Trade The VIX

    Trading volatility is an interesting idea, but current ETFs and ETNs do a fairly poor job of it.
Frequently Asked Questions
  1. Depreciation Can Shield Taxes, Bolster Cash Flow

    Depreciation can be used as a tax-deductible expense to reduce tax costs, bolstering cash flow
  2. What schools did Warren Buffett attend on his way to getting his science and economics degrees?

    Learn how Warren Buffett became so successful through his attendance at multiple prestigious schools and his real-world experiences.
  3. How many attempts at each CFA exam is a candidate permitted?

    The CFA Institute allows an individual an unlimited amount of attempts at each examination.Although you can attempt the examination ...
  4. What's the average salary of a market research analyst?

    Learn about average stock market analyst salaries in the U.S. and different factors that affect salaries and overall levels ...
Trading Center