Has volatility returned to the markets to stay?

Thursday, February 8, 2018 | Eagle, Colorado

One of the calmest periods in market history seems to be over. On Monday, S&P 500 registered its worst one-day percentage drop since August 10, 2011 – down 4.10%. (The DOW was down a bit more at -4.60%.) The S&P 500 index also saw its streak of consecutive days without a 1% daily change come to an end less than 2 weeks ago. Since then more than 5 days have been accompanied by a change of more than 1% (according to Jason Goepfert at sentimentrader.com).

The VIX, an index which tracks expectations about price changes in the S&P 500 spiked to over 50 during the day on Monday only to close under 38, 115% higher than where it closed the day prior. This caused some structural issues with one exchange traded product that is designed to move in the opposite direction of the VIX, and the product is now being liquidated by its sponsor.

How and why all that happens is outside the scope of this note. What is relevant is that these occurrences are “warning shots” from the market and the bottom line is: if you had any trouble sleeping on Monday night, chances are you have too much money invested in risky assets, like stocks or high-yield bonds.

While we know that the market can go much higher while experiencing more regular and meaningful pullbacks (see 2000), we also know that an over-allocation to stocks can be detrimental to one’s portfolio and even physical health.

Many of our clients have increased their exposure to stocks over the past couple of years along with the increase in the price of equity markets. This is standard late-stage bull market behavior. Even folks who haven’t invested in stocks since 2007 are feeling comfortable again. None of this is “bad” or “wrong”, it’s simply indicative. It is human nature.

The long-term average for the VIX is about 20, and for the past year or so it has averaged much closer to 10 – so about half. This is truly amazing. I fear that our clients (along with most professional investors around the globe, let alone people with regular full-time jobs) have been lulled to sleep by this period of historically low volatility in stock markets. The warning shots are meant to wake these folks up, and get them to consider their risk profile.

We are not of the opinion that the long bull market has come to an end. A study of history indicates that pullbacks, corrections, hiccups – whatever you like to call them – are very normal especially late in a cycle. With that in mind, we suggest an equal to slightly over-weight position in equities based in each investor’s personal risk profile.

As we said in a private letter to clients on Monday evening, we don’t (and can’t) know where the market is headed next. But fortunately, we don’t need to know. A commitment to sound investing principles such as appropriate position sizing, adherence to rules-based exit strategies like trailing stop-losses and alignment of personal risk with portfolio risk will help us raise cash to take advantage of the opportunities that are sure to develop along the way and keep us in our best positions should the market turn around and march even higher from here.

If you are unsure about how much risk you currently have in your portfolio, how much risk you should have based on your personal risk profile please visit our website and click the big green “Take Action” button in the top right corner of the window. Or feel free to contact our office at 970.328.7526.


Shane Fleury, RICP®

Chief Investment Officer

Elevate Capital Advisors