VIX ETPs Flash Some Green In 2016

by: Bill Luby

Last year I shocked quite a few investors and media outlets with the publication of Every Single VIX ETP (Long and Short) Lost Money in 2015. My intent was not to tar and feather the VIX exchange-traded products landscape, but to highlight the fact that in an environment characterized by sharp VIX spikes and other volatility extremes, the power of volatility compounding price decay can overwhelm both long and inverse ETPs.

In sharp contrast to across-the-board losses in 2015, the performance of VIX ETPs in 2016 was much more balanced and in line with historical norms. While there were some sharp VIX spikes, the combination moderate volatility, above-average contango and persistent mean reversion translated into a sharp down year for the long VIX ETPs and a strong up year for the inverse VIX ETPs. The more complex multi-leg, long-short and dynamic VIX strategy ETPs were closest to breaking even for the year, with half of these posting modest gains and half posting small losses.

In the graphic below, I have plotted the performance of all twenty VIX-based ETPs with respect to leverage and maturity, using leverage on the y-axis and maturity on the x-axis. This group includes five VIX strategy ETPs that have no easily discernible point on the leverage-maturity grid. Depending on how finely you wish to split hairs, these twenty ETPs account for anywhere from fourteen to eighteen unique ways to trade volatility long and short, across various maturities and according to a wide variety of strategic approaches.

[source(s): VIX and More]

On the plus side, while both the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term ETN (NASDAQ:XIV) and the ProShares Short VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (NYSEARCA:SVXY) were up over 80% during calendar 2016, this performance falls short of the 2012 and 2013 numbers, where each ETP gained more than 100% in both years. Similarly, while losses of over 93% for the ProShares Ultra VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (NYSEARCA:UVXY) and the VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short-Term ETN (NASDAQ:TVIX) must sound like a worst-case scenario for these two products, losses were over 97% in 2012 and just slightly better - at -92% - in 2013.

In terms of consistent winners, while their numbers have been more modest, the most consistent gainers in the VIX ETP space have been the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Medium-Term ETN (NASDAQ:ZIV), the VelocityShares Tail Risk Hedged Large Cap ETF (NYSEARCA:TRSK) and the VelocityShares Volatility Hedged Large Cap ETF (NYSEARCA:SPXH).

For those who may be wondering, the VIX index was down 22.9% for the year, while the front month VIX futures product ended the year with a loss of 18.3%.

As is typically the case, contango was a significant performance driver during the course of the year. Contango affecting the front month and second month VIX futures averaged a relatively robust 8.3% per month during the year (the highest since 2012), while contango between the fourth month and seventh month was slightly above average at 1.8% per month.

During the course of the year, five VIX ETPs were shuttered. These include VXUP and VXDN, XVIX, the C-Tracks ETN (NYSEARCA:CVOL) and VQTS. The biggest factors in the demise of these products was a lack of volume and assets. In the case of VXUP and VXDN, the product complexity and cumbersome array of distributions also helped to quell investor enthusiasm.

Last but not least, I elected to drop the iPath Inverse S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (NYSEARCA:XXV) and the iPath Inverse S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (NYSEARCA:IVOP) from this list as these zombie ETPs both have less than 1% exposure to their underlying volatility index due to the lack of daily rebalancing.

As a result, these have become almost entirely all-cash vehicles, with a dash of volatility. (For those who are curious about these instruments, follow the links above, click on the link to the prospectus and do a keyword search for "participation.")

Two new VIX ETPs entered the fray in 2016: the REX VolMAXX Inverse VIX Weekly Futures Strategy ETF (NYSEMKT:VMIN) and the REX VolMAXX Long VIX Weekly Futures Strategy ETF (NYSEMKT:VMAX). While these products have not yet attracted the interest of investors that I believe is warranted (VMAX and VMIN Poised to Be Most Important VIX ETP Launch in Years), there is still time for investors to discover these products. For the record, VMIN was launched on May 2, 2016 and outperformed both XIV and SVXY from the launch date until the end of the year.

As an aside, for those who may be wondering, the flurry of recent posts is not an anomaly. There is a lot to be said about the VIX, volatility, ETPs, market sentiment and many of my other areas of interest. With the the-year anniversary of the VIX and More blog just three days away, this seems like a good time to dive head first back into the fray.

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