Volatility Exchange-Traded Notes: Curse or Cure?
Posted: 20 May 2012
Date Written: May 19, 2012
This paper investigates the trading, hedging and performance characteristics of VIX futures exchange-traded notes (ETNs) and discusses their pros and cons from the perspectives of the regulator, the issuer, and the non-speculative investor. Is this direct trading of volatility in very high volumes a major new source of issuer risk and systemic risk? Or – as advertised by the issuers – do these notes provide a unique source of diversification that should be welcomed by investors and regulators alike? To answer these questions we replicate the ETNs daily indicative values from March 2004 – March 2012, showing that the amplitude and frequency of volatility cycles have indeed increased markedly since the introduction of VIX futures ETNs. On the other hand, we explain how long-term investors can build simple ETN portfolios with uniquely attractive performance and diversification characteristics – provided they hold inverse rather than direct short-term tracker ETNs. Then we focus on the ETN issuers’ hedging activities, where the terms and conditions of early redemption provide transparent front-running opportunities for speculators which in turn increases both the hedging error and the volatility of VIX futures. Furthermore the one-day notice period for early redemption presents a moral hazard problem for the issuer.
Keywords: Exchange-traded notes, constant-maturity VIX futures, roll yield, manipulation-proof performance measure
JEL Classification: G11, G15, G21
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation