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Volatility ETFs Higher on Trump's Threats, Weak Data

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After capping the best month since June, Wall Street’s rally fizzled out to start December with fresh trade tensions and downbeat U.S. data. This is especially true as President Donald Trump tweeted that he would restore tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Brazil and Argentina in retaliation to currency devaluations.

The Trump administration also proposed tariffs of up to 100% on $2.4 billion worth of French products, including sparkling wine, cheese and other goods, to penalize France for a new digital services tax that has hit U.S. technology companies (read: 2 Sectors & Their ETFs Are Hot Picks for 2020).

The Institute for Supply Management data showed that the U.S. manufacturing sector contracted for a fourth straight month in November as new factory orders dropped to their lowest level since 2012. Additionally, U.S. construction spending unexpectedly fell in October as investment in private projects tumbled to its lowest in three years. The weak data has rekindled worries about a slowing economy.

As such, the volatility level represented by the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) spiked 18.1% on the first day of December, suggesting that the market worries have started to set in. This fear gauge tends to outperform when markets are declining or fear-levels pertaining to the future are high.

Investors could definitely benefit from this trend. While they can’t directly buy this index, there are several ETF/ETN options available in the market that can provide some exposure to volatility. These products have proven to be short-time winners in turbulent times. Below, we have highlighted short-term volatility products that will steadily move higher as long as trade concerns linger (read: ETFs vs. ETNs: Why You Need to Know the Difference):

Simple Volatility ETFs

iPath Series B S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN VXX

This is a popular option providing exposure to volatility that sees a truly impressive average volume of about 31.6 million shares a day. The note has amassed $909.1 million in AUM and charges 89 basis points (bps) in fees per year. The ETN focuses on the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index, which reflects implied volatility in the S&P 500 Index at various points along the volatility forward curve. It provides investors with exposure to a daily rolling long position in the first and second months of VIX futures contracts. The product gained 5.2% on the first day of December (read: Top & Flop ETFs Halfway Through Q4).

ProShares VIX Short-Term Futures ETF VIXY

It seeks to profit from increases in the expected volatility of the S&P 500 as measured by the prices of VIX futures contracts. The ETF focuses on the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index, measuring the returns of a portfolio of monthly VIX futures contracts with a weighted average of one month to expiration. It has amassed $297.4 million in AUM and charges 85 bps in fees per year. The fund trades in average daily volume of around 2.8 million shares and was up 5.8% on Dec 2.

VelocityShares Daily Long VIX Short-Term ETN

This ETN is unpopular and illiquid with AUM of $20.1 million and average daily volume of 85,000 shares. It seeks to deliver the daily performance of the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index, charging 89 bps in annual fees. The note jumped 6% on the day.

Leveraged Volatility ETFs

Investors seeking huge gains in a very short time frame could consider leveraged volatility ETFs. Currently, there are two options available under this category:

ProShares Ultra VIX Short-Term Futures ETF UVXY

This fund offers exposure to one and one-half times (1.5x) the daily performance of the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index. It has accumulated $579.5 million and average daily volume of 13.5 million shares. UVXY charges 95 bps in annual fees and gained 6.9% on the day (read: 5 Top-Performing Leveraged ETFs of November).

VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short-Term ETN TVIX

This note offers two times exposure to the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index. TVIX is popular with average daily volume of around 33.3 million shares and AUM of about $881.6 million. Expense ratio is much higher at 1.65%. TVIX was up nearly 10% on Dec 2.

Bottom Line

Investors should note that these products are suitable only for short-term traders. This is because most of the time, the VIX futures market trades in a condition known as contango, a situation wherein the near-term futures are cheaper than the long-term futures contracts. As volatility ETFs and ETNs like VXX must roll from month to month in order to avoid delivery, the situation of contango can eat away returns over long periods (see: all the Volatility ETFs here).

Though volatility of volatility products is pretty high, this seems a good time to add these products to your portfolio as trade woes will threaten the stock market at least in the near term.

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