Thursday, October 19, 2017

"Will Short Volatility Trigger the Next Black Monday?"

From MoneyBeat:
Market watchers are increasingly eyeing the popular bet against volatility as ground zero for the next financial crisis.

More than $2 trillion has flowed into the “global short volatility trade,” says Artemis Capital Management founder Christopher Cole. Those wagers both influence and are influenced by stock market turbulence. They also could backfire, threatening the eight-year-old bull market.

The tactics include options selling strategies by the largest pension funds and asset managers alongside exchange-traded products tracking the CBOE Volatility Index, or VIX, and VIX futures. Exchange-traded products betting on a pickup in volatility are some of the riskiest, and some investors could see extreme losses if the VIX jumps, Mr. Cole wrote in an Oct. 18 note.
Among the other strategies are ones that utilize volatility to make investing decisions, such as so-called risk parity strategies, that tend to bank on assets like stocks and bonds moving in different directions. If stocks and bonds rise and fall at the same time, it could hurt the billions of dollars in investments that rely on this relationship, he said.

“The danger is that the multi-trillion dollar short volatility trade, in all its forms, will contribute to a violent feedback loop of higher volatility resulting in a hyper-crash,” wrote Mr. Cole.

If that happens, there is no limit to how high volatility could go, Mr. Cole wrote, a moment markets experienced 30 years ago to the day. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted 22.6% on Black Monday, fueled by many of the drivers that markets are experiencing right now, he said.

Artemis is not alone in flagging these risks. The International Monetary Fund recently warned in its Global Financial Stability Report that low volatility can heighten how sensitive a financial system is to risks because when things are calm, investors ramp up exposure to financial assets. Investors also use more leverage, which can amplify any swings when they do happen.

Ironically, so-called volatility-targeting investment strategies, meant to keep portfolio fluctuations at a certain level, can lead to market disruptions and heavy selling when market jitters pick up...MORE
Here's Mr. Cole's Artemis Capital Management:

Volatility and the Alchemy of Risk 
Reflexivity in the Shadows of Black Monday 1987

Volatility and the Alchemy of Risk 
The Ouroboros , a Greek word meaning ‘tail devourer’, is the ancient symbol of a snake consuming its own body in perfect symmetry. The imagery of the Ouroboros evokes the infinite nature of creation from destruction . The sign appears across cultures and is an important icon in the esoteric tradition of Alchemy. Egyptian mystics first derived the symbol from a real phenomenon in nature. In extreme heat a snake, unable to self - regulate its body temperature, will experience an out - of - control spike in its metabolism. In a state of mania, the snake is unable to differentiate its own tail from its prey, and will attack itself, self - cannibalizing until it perishes. In nature and markets, when randomness self - organizes into too perfect symmetry, order becomes the source of chaos (1) .

The Ouroboros is a metaphor for the financial alchemy driving the modern Bear Market in Fear. Volatility across asset classes is at multi - generational lows. A dangerous feedback loop now exists between ultra - low interest rates, debt expansion, asset volatility, and financial engineering that allocates risk based on that volatility. In this self - reflexive loop volatility can reinforce itself both lower and higher. In a market where stocks and bonds are both overvalued, financial alchemy is the only way to feed our global hunger for yield, until it kills the very system it is nourishing .

The Global Short Volatility trade now represents an estimated $2 + trillion in financial engineering strategies that simultaneously exert influence over, and are influenced by, stock market volatility (2). We broadly define the short volatility trade as any financial strategy that relies on the assumption of market stability to generate returns, while using volatility itself as an input for risk taking. Many popular institutional investment strategies, even if they are not explicitly shorting derivatives, generate excess returns from the same implicit risk factors as a portfolio of short optionality, and contain hidden fragility.

Volatility is now an input for risk taking and the source of excess returns in the absence of value. Lower volatility is feeding into even lower volatility, in a self - perpetuating cycle, pushing variance to the zero bound. To the uninitiated this appears to be a magical formula to transmute ether into gold... volatility into riches... however financial alchemy is deceptive. Like a snake blind to the fact it is devouring its own body, the same factors that appear stabilizing can reverse into chaos. The danger is that the multi - trillion - dollar short volatility trade, in all its forms, will contribute to a violent feedback loop of higher volatility resulting in a hyper - crash. At that point the snake will die and there is no theoretical limit to how high volatility could go.

Thirty years ago to the day we experienced that moment. On October 19th, 1987 markets around the world crashed at record speed, including a - 20% loss in the S&P 500 Index, and a spike to over 150% in volatility. Many forget that Black Monday occurred during a booming stock market, economic expansion, and rising interest rates. In retrospect, we blame portfolio insurance for creating a feedback loop that amplified losses. In this paper we will argue that rising inflation was the spark that ignited 1987 fire, while computer trading served as explosive nitroglycerin that amplified a normal fire into a cataclysmic conflagration. The multi - trillion - dollar short volatility trade, broadly defined in all its forms, can play a similar role today if inflation forces central banks to raise rates into any financial stress. Black Monday was the first modern crash driven by machine feedback loops, and it will not be the last....MUCH MORE (19 page PDF)
Previously from Mr. Cole:
"Volatility and the Prisoners Dilemma"—CBOE Risk Management Conference Asia, December 1, 2015

And many more, use the search blog box keywords 'Cole, Artemis' if interested.
(just using 'Artemis' will get you a hundred posts on reinsurance and cat bonds, worthy but not related, directly) 

Baby Got Black (Swan)
(With apologies to Sir Mix-a-Lot)
I like… fat… tails and I cannot lie
You vol sellers can’t deny
When a hot trend breaks with a well-timed stop
and a great big black swan pop you get
Paid… P&L year gets made
‘Cause you noticed that trade was packed
Buncha mean reversion suckers got jacked

Oh baby I wanna get lumpy
Long gamma for when it gets bumpy
Central banks tried to haze me,
But those carry trades just don’t faze me!...MORE
Genius or madman?