CBOE's Volatility Index Futures (VIX)

CBOE VIX Futures Volatility IndexAn important measure of volatility when referring to the S&P 500 is the now infamous Chicago Board Options Exchange's Volatility Index, often simply referred to as the VIX. According to the CBOE, the VIX is a "key measure of market expectations of near-term volatility as conveyed by S&P 500 stock index option prices" and has become one of the most prominent measures of market sentiment in the world. In “normal” market conditions, the VIX spends a majority of its time below 20. As chaotic price action in the financial markets heat up, the VIX can see spikes into the 30 or 40 levels. However, in historically extreme circumstances such as the 2008 financial crisis, the VIX can trade into the 70s, or even higher.

The VIX futures contract is the sole futures offering on the CBOE exchange. As a result, not all futures brokers offer access to trade it. Additionally, receiving real-time VIX quotes in a futures trading platform isn’t necessarily a given.

The VIX futures market offers contracts expiring each month. The margin to trade VIX futures fluctuates around $3,000 per contract and the point value is $1,000, making it a very volatile holding in any commodity trading portfolio. For instance, fi the VIX moves from 15.00 to 16.00, the trader would have made or lost $1,000 per contract with a margin deposit of just $3,000. If you’ve followed the VIX, you know that it doesn’t take much time to travel a full point. Thus, most traders are probably better suited trading e-mini S&P options, than dabbling with highly levered VIX futures.

Increased values of VIX are highly correlated with higher option premium in the ES (e-mini S&P) options due to inflated expectations of future volatility built into options on futures prices. Assuming he is willing to accept the risk of participating in such a market, times of inflated expectations of volatility, and therefore over-priced options, are ideal conditions for an experienced option seller.

The Quest for Implied Volatility in Futures Options

Unlike the VIX which is derived from the underlying futures price, among other factors, implied volatility is a component of option price. The implied volatility of a futures option, is the amount of volatility implied by the market value, or price, of the option. In other words, the implied volatility is forward looking in that it incorporates the current market precariousness as well as what market participants are expecting at some point in the future.

You may also find that market emotion and sentiment are a component of futures option implied volatility. As long commodity option traders scramble to “buy” volatility through the purchase of options in an attempt to profit from the latest hype, option premiums can and do explode exponentially. As a sidelined options on futures seller, these types of conditions should be inviting. The premise of this approach is to attempt to sell options to buyers that are simply "late to the party". The key is making sure that as a seller you aren't too early.

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