Something strange has happened to the VIX futures in 2012: for the first time in their history, the VIX futures persist in being in violent disagreement with each other. Prior to 2012, for instance, the average difference between the front month and seventh month VIX futures was about 16%. This year that number has surged to more than 38%.
The VIX futures term structure has been in extreme contango (back months higher than front months) for the better part of 2012, with 17 days in which the contango across the full VIX futures curve has exceeded the all-time record that stood prior to 2012. It is almost as if the idea of a flat VIX futures term structure curve is passé and traders are convinced that the short-term volatility picture is perpetually an aberration that bears little resemblance to longer-term volatility expectations. Can these two differing perspectives of the future of volatility meaningfully coexist? If not, which view is likely to be wrong?
In a series of upcoming posts, I will put the issue of a VIX futures term structure in disarray under the microscope and discuss issues such as the huge gap between implied volatility and realized volatility, disaster imprinting and the role of the recent financial crisis in shaping future volatility expectations, looming issues such as the European sovereign debt crisis, the fiscal cliff, the potential for a hard landing in China, etc.
Ultimately I will attempt to answer the question of whether the back month VIX futures should be trading at levels that are 45-90% higher than the front month VIX futures, as has been the case for the past two months. I will also look at some of the implications for trading VIX futures, VIX options and VIX exchange-traded products.
In the interim, some of the links below might provide some useful background and context.