Incorporating VIX ETFs: Strategies for Portfolio Enhancement

Incorporating VIX ETFs: Strategies for Portfolio Enhancement

4 Min.

The VIX, also known as the volatility index, is a widely accepted market volatility measure often used to track investor fear. Investors can trade ETFs that mimic the VIX to speculate on or hedge against future market movements. Before adding it to your portfolio, it is essential to comprehend how the VIX and its ETFs function and the unique risks associated with them.


Navigating the world of investments requires a deep understanding of market dynamics, especially market volatility. This refers to the rapid and significant price fluctuations on a daily basis. Enter the VIX, a financial instrument crafted by Cboe Global Markets (Cboe) to gauge market volatility. Widely recognized by its acronym, the Volatility Index (VIX) is derived from implied volatilities gleaned from S&P 500 index options prices, offering insight into the market's anticipation of 30-day volatility. Beyond monitoring market volatility, investors can strategically engage with securities mirroring the VIX's value: consider looking into VIX ETFs as a potential avenue for benefits.

Decoding Investor Sentiment: Unveiling the Volatility Index

Termed the "fear index," the VIX serves as a barometer for assessing investor confidence or apprehension about potential market volatility. Its trajectory is intricately tied to stock market shifts, notably spiking when stock prices decline, often in an exaggerated manner.

While mainstream investors find the VIX invaluable for direct stock trading, alternative avenues exist. The Cboe Volatility Suite introduces VIX options and futures, enabling investors to make predictions based on the volatility index itself, detached from specific stock movements.

The realm of VIX-related investment extends to exchange-traded funds (ETFs), adding complexity compared to standard stock baskets. Despite this, exploring VIX ETFs holds merit, demanding a meticulous understanding of their mechanisms, alongside an awareness of associated risks and rewards in this niche within the ETF landscape.

Exploring VIX-Linked Exchange-Traded Funds

VIX ETFs present a nuanced landscape, diverging from direct access to the VIX index. Instead, they typically mirror VIX futures indexes, introducing inherent risks detailed below. Most VIX ETFs operate as exchange-traded notes (ETNs), with minimal concern about counterparty risk from issuing banks.

A notable player in this arena is the iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXX), strategically maintaining a long position in first- and second-month VIX futures contracts that roll daily. VXX tends to trade higher during periods of low volatility, aligning with volatility's inclination to revert to the mean.

Conversely, inverse VIX ETFs capitalize on adverse VIX movements, offering a safeguard during turbulent market phases. The VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Short-Term ETN and the VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Medium-Term ETN, however, shuttered in 2020 due in part to the VIX's substantial 115% climb in early 2018. An exemplar of an inverse VIX ETF, the ProShares Short VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (SVXY) leverages VIX short-term futures as an index benchmark, providing 0.5x inverse exposure without leverage. SVXY's 2017 return stood at an impressive 181.84%, yet the product experienced a sharp -91.75% downturn in mid-2018 amid heightened volatility.

Other inverse ETFs, like the now-delisted VelocityShares Daily Inverse VIX Medium-Term ETN (ZIV), harnessed S&P 500 VIX Mid-Term Futures, yielding nearly 90% returns in 2017 through strategic deployment.

Navigating VIX ETF Challenges

Inherent to VIX ETFs is the nuanced nature of the VIX itself, measuring "implied" volatility rather than direct volatility. Originating from a weighted blend of S&P 500 index options prices, the VIX reflects investors' willingness to engage in S&P 500 transactions.

However, VIX ETFs face challenges in accurately mirroring the VIX. One-month ETN proxies capture only 25% to 50% of daily VIX moves, with mid-term products performing even less effectively due to the shortcomings of VIX futures indexes as benchmarks. Moreover, VIX ETF positions undergo decay over time, influenced by the behavior of the VIX futures curve. This decay limits funds available for rolling into subsequent futures contracts, leading to persistent long-term losses for most VIX ETFs.

Illustrated by the mentioned examples, VIX ETFs prove highly delicate. Inverse volatility ETFs are vulnerable to substantial losses during market volatility spikes, potentially facing virtual annihilation in a single tumultuous day. Prudent consideration of personnel managing inverse volatility products is advised for interested investors, and viewing investments in inverse VIX ETFs as opportunities for short-term gains rather than long-term holdings is recommended due to their extreme volatility.


For those eyeing the VIX ETF arena, a strategic approach involves short-term investments, potentially spanning just a day. The high liquidity of many products within this domain provides a fertile ground for speculative opportunities. While acknowledging the inherent high risk, prudent and cautious trading of VIX ETFs can unlock lucrative prospects.

Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs)
Volatility Index (VI)