Take a look at the chart below, and note the unnaturally smooth 80% decline. Kind of makes you think “imminent bankruptcy”. But now consider that the security in question is 100% guaranteed not to fall to zero and about 90% guaranteed to stay above 10.
It’s VXX, an exchange traded fund that, according to its profile, “seeks to replicate, net of expenses, the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Total Return Index. The index offers exposure to a daily rolling long position in the first and second month VIX futures contracts and reflects the implied volatility of the S&P 500 index at various points along the volatility forward curve.”
In other words, it reflects the perceived riskiness of stocks as measured by the VIX volatility index. Lately, the volatility/riskiness of the S&P 500 has been evaporating as the Fed hands virtually free cash to pretty much everyone who asks, and the recipients buy suspiciously regular amounts of stock each day. This is leading options and futures traders to get bored and charge lower derivatives premiums.
The result is an ETF with a nice risk/reward profile. The chart below shows that twice over the past couple of decades the VIX has approached 10 before bouncing off. Below 10 is theoretically possible but would imply some kind of uneventful paradise, not very likely in this world. So let’s call 10 our downside risk. For upside potential, considering all the bad monetary/geopolitical/Goldman Sachs-related things that could happen and that it will only take one of them to spike volatility, a return to 50 or so isn’t asking too much.
Full disclosure: I’m long VXX and getting longer.