A Closer Look at the VIX and Volatility ETFs

The CBOE Volatility Index, or VIX, is a popular measure of stock market volatility. However, investors should understand the differences between the VIX and VIX futures-backed exchange traded funds.

On the recent webcast (available on-demand), Capitalizing on Rising U.S. Equity Volatility with VIX Futures ETFs, Matt Moran, Vice President of the Chicago Board Options Exchange, said that the VIX measures the market’s expectations of 30-day volatility implicit in the prices of near-term S&P 500 options, or SPX options with more than 23 days and less than 37 days to expiration to provide a 30-calendar day volatility measure. Potential investors should also note that the VIX index itself is not investable.

The VIX fell 6.5% to 15.15 on Tuesday as the equities market rallied on strong earnings results. The index has reflected a relatively complacent market for most of the year, compared to an average VIX value of 19.8 or a median value of 17.9 since January 1990.

In a survey of financial advisors attending the webcast, the majority 55% of respondents believe the VIX could spike to an average 18% to 25% over the first week of November before the U.S. elections, followed by 30% of respondents who believe the VIX could hover around 13% to 17%.

Moran also explained that traders are interested in the VIX because of its high volatility, negative correlation to the S&P 500, convexity or ability to outperform when the S&P 500 declines, and seasonal trends that showed monthly highs for the VIX ranged from an average 22.3 low in May to 29.8 high in October over the past 24 years.

SEE MORE: ETFs to Hedge Election Risks Ahead

If investors want to hedge against any market risks or bet on volatile turns, people would typically utilize VIX futures, which are priced based on the forward value of the VIX. Since investors can’t invest in the VIX Index itself, many typically use futures to hedge positions.

To make it easier for investors to gain exposure to the VIX, Joanne M. Hill, Head of Institutional Investment Strategy at ProShares, outlined two indices that try to reflect changes in the VIX through VIX futures contracts, including the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index, which reflects expectations for the VIX in one month, and S&P 500 VIX Mid-Term Futures Index, which reflects expectations for the VIX in five months.