What Is the VelocityShares Daily 2X VIX Short-Term ETN (TVIX)?

The Velocity Shares Daily 2X VIX Short-Term ETN (TVIX) is an exchange traded note (ETN) that tracks an index of futures contracts on the Standard & Poor's 500 (S&P 500) VIX Short-Term Futures Index, with 200% leverage on the volatility moves. The TVIX was issued by Credit Suisse Securities (CS) on Nov. 29, 2010.

Investors should be aware that, unlike an exchange traded fund (ETF), an ETN does not take positions in the underlying tracking instrument. Instead, ETNs are senior unsecured debt obligations of an issuing financial institution that pays no interest and are subject to credit risk. ETNs do not incur tracking errors like ETFs do since there is no buying and selling of the underlying tracking instrument.

Key Takeaways

  • The Velocity Shares Daily 2X VIX Short-Term ETN (TVIX) is an exchange traded note that tracks the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index.
  • TVIX has 200% leverage on the volatility moves, making it popular with those who want to bet against the market on a short-term basis.
  • TVIX routinely implements a 10 to 1 stock split when the price falls under certain price thresholds.
  • Credit Suisse Securities, the company that issues the ETN, is also its largest institutional holder by a wide margin.

In fact, ETNs are left strictly to market forces to determine how closely they track the underlying index. While this creates a truly free market pricing mechanism, it can also backfire disastrously when structural or non-correlated anomaly situations arise.

Understanding the VelocityShares Daily 2X VIX Short-Term ETN (TVIX)

VIX ETNs like the TVIX leveraged ETN are useful for trading short-term moves in the volatility of the S&P 500 index. But, because of its structure using futures contracts, the price tends to decay rapidly, leading to several stock splits and a steadily decreasing share price over time.

Contango to Stock Splits

Investors should be aware that the TVIX incurs monthly price decay of 8 to 13%, depending on market volatility. Less volatility equates to more contango, which erodes the pricing by 80% to 90% annually. For this reason, Credit Suisse routinely implements a 10 to 1 reverse stock split when the price falls under certain price thresholds ranging from $5 to $1 per share.

The TVIX has had several 10 to 1 reverse stock splits since inception, the last of which took place on Dec. 2, 2019. This ETN is thus best reserved for very short-term trading purposes.

Institutional Ownership and Activity

The TVIX had 4.91 million outstanding ETN shares as of April 2020. As the issuer of the TVIX ETN, Credit Suisse is the top institutional holder, with 56% of the outstanding shares, followed by algorithmic trading and market-making firms including:

  • SG Americas Securities 14% 
  • Millennium Management 6%
  • Morgan Stanley 6%

Due to the exceptionally fast price decay, it is not uncommon for institutions to box a long TVIX position by short-selling the identical number of TVIX shares, at least temporarily, to buy time for the next move.

Investor Type and Style

TVIX was not designed to be held for extended periods of time. The majority of the institutional holders either make markets in the TVIX electronically or utilize it for various high-frequency-trading (HFT) strategy programs. Brokers accounted for the largest position changes, averaging over 25,000 shares per transaction, followed by investment advisors with under 5,000 shares.

Growth was the top investment style among holders. As market volatility rises, more investors want a long exposure to volatility and so buy more TVIX, on average.

2012 TVIX Disaster

Issuer Credit Suisse stopped issuing TVIX new shares in Feb. 2012. Due to the limited supply, the TVIX started to rise as premiums between the net asset value (NAV) and the market price had risen as high as 90%.

Retail investors were in for a rude awakening on March 22, 2012, when the TVIX collapsed 29.3% and proceeded to fall another 29.8% the following day. The TVIX fell from $14.43 to a low of $7.16, a drop of over 50% in 48 hours.

Even more shocking was that the price collapse was completely unrelated to the underlying moves of the VIX Index. In fact, the VIX Index actually rose higher on that second day. Immediately after the sell-off, Credit Suisse released a statement that it would resume issuing shares again. The suspicious timing of the sell-off and news release led to many class-action lawsuits.

This is a cautionary tale for investors to always check the premium between the market price and NAV of an ETN product. Most importantly, the TVIX pricing is completely market-driven without structured pricing mechanisms in place. It is not a product for long-term investment, nor for unsophisticated investors.