Low Volatility is not a new normal or fundamentally justified – it is result from macro de-correlation and massive supply of volatility through yield generation products and strategies. Finally, Big Data Strategies are increasingly challenging traditional fundamental investing and will be a catalyst for changes in the years to come.
What is really driving the low volatility? As we discussed recently low correlations (driven by quant flows, sector and thematic trading) are temporarily reducing volatility by 2-4 points, and a massive supply of volatility pressures implied and extension realized volatility by another 2-4 points. We estimated that supply from yield seeking risk premia strategies grew by $1Bn vega (30% of the S&P500 options market). In addition to these, large inflows in passive funds put further pressure on volatility. Keep in mind that passive investors almost never sell. Quant investors don’t take large directional bets and don’t overreact either (at least not for the same reasons humans do). Regardless of those, we think current low levels of volatility is not a new normal and will not last very long given the amount of leverage, rising rates, and the approaching reduction of central bank balance sheets.
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Volatility has not increased to any meaningful extent since April but there have been occasional pops on the upside which have not been sustained. These occurred in May, June and August so it has been two months since the last one.