Trading Nation

This ‘crash’ is great news for investors

Trading low-volatility markets

This isn't the June that traders were hoping for.

A bevy of big events were supposed to move markets this month, including a European Central Bank meeting, an OPEC summit, a key employment report, a long-awaited Fed decision and a series of Grecian deadlines.

Rather, the markets have felt more like the Grecian urn that poet John Keats made famous: "Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness/Thou foster-child of silence and slow time."

In the words of macro strategist Neil Azous of Rareview Macro, there's been a "rolling crash in equity volatility."

Since the end of May, 30-day realized volatility (a measure of the size of recent moves) has fallen by 16 percent. And over the past five months, that measure of volatility has been sliced in half.

Traders don't expect big moves ahead, either. The CBOE Volatility Index, which uses options prices to measure expected future volatility, has tumbled to 12, which is just about the lowest the VIX has been since June of last year.

Further, the volatility "crash" isn't contained to the overall market. Over the past week, 40 of the 41 ETFs tracked by Jim Strugger at MKM Partners have seen three-month at-the-money implied volatility drop. That means investors are now paying less for options on those ETFs, likely since they now expect to see smaller-magnitude moves over the next three months. (The exception, by the way, was the natural gas ETF UNG.)

"The trend in volatility was clearly lower," Strugger wrote.

The development is bad news for traders, who benefit from large moves. But for long-term investors, who should prefer moderate gains over time rather than stomach-wrenching pops and drops, the trend is a positive.

Large moves famously threaten to engender mistakes on the part of inexperienced investors. The temptation to sell after a slide is strong, as is the urge to disrupt one's asset allocation by getting all-in to stocks at the highs.

With a slow 3 percent grind higher in the S&P 500 over the past six months, it has actually been a pretty good year for those who like to see their long-term holdings move slowly in the right direction.

And most traders don't see volatility coming back in a real way anytime soon.

"Over the next month or two months, is there something to be worried about? I don't think so. So I'm not exactly sure what a driver of higher vol would be," Azous said.

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