Sunday, December 4, 2011

Changes to Newsletter Place More Emphasis on VIX Exchange-Traded Products

Approximately five months ago I conducted a survey of newsletter subscribers and based on that feedback, implemented a number of changes. Specifically, since July I have been placing a much greater emphasis on VIX ETPs and volatility in general in the newsletter. I have also moved the publication date to Wednesdays from Sundays.

To set the context and provide some explanation for those changes, let me offer a brief bit of history.

When I launched the newsletter, in March 2008, it was based on feedback from some readers who were interested in more details about my proprietary research and analysis on volatility and market sentiment. At the same time, another group of readers were more interested in hearing my general market commentary on a regular basis, as well as how I translated my views on the financial markets into specific trading opportunities. Initially I published two newsletters (research and analysis on Wednesdays and general market commentary and specific stock trading ideas on Sunday) and offered both newsletters bundled together as one subscription. While there was a peaceful coexistence of sorts, I felt a little as if I were making gelato on Wednesdays and cannoli on Sundays and while I liked idea of being an ice cream maker and a pastry chef at the same time, things occasionally got a little schizophrenic. As a result, I merged the two newsletters into one newsletter at the end of 2008.

Content Drift Due to New VIX Exchange-Traded Products
With the launch of the first VIX-based exchange-traded products in January 2009, I made a conscious decision to feature the new VIX products prominently. Initially the likes of VXX and VXZ had a mixed reception, but later these found a broad audience and spawned what is now a whole new asset class consisting of 31 volatility ETPs traded in the U.S. As the months have passed and trading volume in the VIX ETPs has risen, the newsletter focus has evolved from approximately 5% of the content related to VIX ETPs to close to 50%.

Reader Survey Results
A large part of the reason for an increased emphasis on VIX ETPs is due to reader feedback. At the beginning of the summer, I elected to survey subscribers to determine what their primary reasons were for subscribing to the newsletter, what content they enjoyed most and what changes they would like to see. The responses clustered around three main points. First and foremost, readers wanted more analysis of VIX ETPs, including trading ideas. Second, readers were interested in my analysis of volatility and more broadly in how that translated into trading opportunities. Third, quite a few readers expressed a desire to return to the Wednesday or “mid-week” publication schedule.

Changes to the Newsletter Implemented in July
As a result of the reader feedback, I made a number of changes in July. First, I changed the publication from Sundays to Wednesdays. Second, I added two new sections to the newsletter:

1) VIX Futures Term Structure – Includes a term structure graph for the current week and previous week, as well as some commentary about any unusual aspects of the term structure or recent changes in the term structure.

2) Trading Volatility – In this section I translate the VIX futures term structure into the relative attractiveness of various positions due to roll yield and the overall shape of the term structure. I also incorporate some analysis of VIX mean reversion and ultimate single out which VIX ETPs I believe are attractive longs and shorts in the current market environment, often incorporating ideas on how these might be traded with options and futures.

I also enhanced third volatility section, formerly known as Volatility Corner and now known as Volatility Overview. This section includes a table of 17 different volatility measures; my discussion and analysis of these volatility measures provides a lead in to the discussion of the VIX futures term structure and various VIX trading opportunities.

As the table below shows, the only section I dropped from the newsletter was the VIX and More Focus Model Portfolios. I also used this opportunity to fold The Week in Review and The Week Ahead into one larger Market Commentary section.

Old VIX and More Newsletter

VIX and More Newsletter Since July

The Week in Review:  What Moved the Markets

Market Commentary (includes a look back and a look ahead)

Market Commentary

The Week Ahead:  What to Look For

Aggregate Market Sentiment Indicator (AMSI)

Aggregate Market Sentiment Indicator (AMSI)

Volatility Corner

Volatility Overview


VIX Futures Term Structure


Trading Volatility

Asset Class Outlook

Asset Class Outlook

Current Investment Thesis

Current Investment Thesis

VIX and More Focus Model Portfolios


The Stock of the Week

The Stock of the Week

EVALS Relaunched, Now Focusing on VIX ETPs
The final change that came from the reader survey was a relaunch of EVALS (ETP Volatility Analysis Long/Short) two weeks ago. Whereas the prior incarnations of the newsletter and EVALS were completely independent of each other, now EVALS, which is a model portfolio consisting almost entirely of VIX ETPs, is a tightly linked complement to the newsletter and specifically extends the analysis of Volatility Overview, VIX Futures Term Structure and Trading Volatility to an actively-traded model portfolio.

For those who find my summary of the changes less than crystal clear, the good news is that I continue to offer a 14-day free trial (see top of right column) to the subscriber newsletter for all new subscribers.

Disclosure(s): long XIV and short VXX at time of writing

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Newsletter and Portfolio Performance Update Through 12/31/10

Today marks the third anniversary of the VIX and More Newsletter. To be honest, I had no idea what I would be getting in to when I started this venture. The primary impetus for the newsletter came from blog reader who were interested in my thoughts on a broad range of subjects, from the various geopolitical and macroeconomic influences on volatility to a more comprehensive look at market sentiment, to my assessment of some asset classes that I rarely mentioned on the blog, such as commodities (now more prominently featured), bonds and currencies.

Each Sunday I sit down to reflect on the events of the past week and plan out my trading for the coming week. I write the newsletter partly for myself, in order to organize my thinking, and partly for the benefit of readers whose questions and comments have given me a sense of which areas I should emphasize and drill down on.

From the outset I have considered the core of the newsletter to be a discussion of the main influences on the market during the past week, an evaluation of the most important economic data and earnings report scheduled for the coming week and a discussion of my current investment thesis and trading ideas across a broad range of asset classes, sectors, geographies, etc.

As time went on, reader feedback has caused me to place increased emphasis on volatility, including the VIX, various other volatility indices, VIX futures, VIX options and the growing number of VIX ETFs and VIX ETNs. As a result of this feedback, it has been the Volatility Corner section of the newsletter that has seen the most growth in terms of dedicated space and analysis. This trend continued during the fourth quarter, when as a result of the proliferation of volatility-based ETNs and ETFs I expanded the Volatility Update table to include data and analysis of three new VIX ETNs:
  • TVIX -- VelocityShares Daily 2X VIX Short-Term ETN
  • XIV -- VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term ETN
  • XVIX -- UBS E-TRACS Daily Long-Short VIX ETN
I am proud of all the positive feedback I have received along the way and consider the unusually high renewal rate to be a sign that readers are getting a good deal of value out of what I write.  Thanks to those who have been subscribers from the very beginning and those who have offered their support and encouragement along the way.

Of course, each quarter I publish performance data for three model portfolios and a Stock of the Week ‘Sequential Portfolio’ (SOTW). During the fourth quarter the model portfolios performed extremely well, racking up substantial gains. Three of the four portfolios topped their benchmarks during the quarter, some of them by huge margins. The sole exception was Focus Foreign Growth, which still managed to top its benchmark (the EAFE index ETF, EFA) by more than 16% for the year.
The one disappointment for 2010 was the Focus Growth 2. As detailed in the post below, I decided to revamp both the stock selection rules as well as the position management algorithms for Growth 2 and implemented those changes on August 30. Since that change, Growth 2 is up 30.8% and is making up ground on the benchmark S&P 500 index.

This brings me to the Stock of the Week ‘Sequential Portfolio’ (SOTW), which has become a rock star of sorts. After returning 97% in 2008 (from the March 30th launch until the end of the year, the SOTW gained 265% in 2009 and followed that up with a gain of 179% in 2010. As I am sure the publication of the numbers for the full year will once again bring in a rash of emails, let me offer up some pre-emptive commentary.

First, I recommend that anyone who is interested in exploring the SOTW in some detail examine the work of Michael Stokes of MarketSci, who had a three-part series in April 2010 in which he reviewed the SOTW, first as a single stock portfolio, then using a short SPY position to hedge market risk and finally examining a theoretical 10-week holding period. The quick summary of MarketSci’s findings is that the performance of the SOTW was very strong both unhedged and hedged, but there is not convincing evidence of persistent outperformance past the initial post-selection week.

The full set of MarketSci reviews can be found at:
For the record, MarketSci’s analysis assumes that an investor would buy the SOTW at beginning of the first session of the following week and close out the position at the end of the final trading day of that week. As I stated in a VIX and More post MarketSci on the Stock of the Week ‘Sequential Portfolio’:
“This is different from the Friday close to Friday close data I have always reported in my subscriber newsletter, because I always wanted to report a cost basis in the newsletter on Sunday and assumed that if I avoided stocks which had news over the weekend, the difference between using a Friday close vs. a Monday open as a cost basis would not be meaningful in the long run.”
Many readers have asked me to provide an analysis of how the SOTW would have performed in 2010 had someone used the SOTW selections to purchase the SOTW at its opening price on the following Monday and sell it at its closing price at the end of the week. I hope to have this information and some additional related analysis published in short order.

For those seeking additional information, I am offering a 14-day free trial (see top of right column) to the subscriber newsletter for all new subscribers.

Disclosure(s): long XIV and short VXX at time of writing