Volatility reappeared in the U.S. equity markets in the third quarter. The VIX
a common measure of market volatility, jumped from July’s low teens to over 40 in August, before settling in the low
- to mid-twenties by quarter end. The higher volatility was also accompanied by negative returns.
Now, some investors are viewing this as an inflection point
for U.S. equities and are gearing up for a lower return, higher volatility
market going forward.
One way to help portfolios
weather this sort of environment may be to incorporate market exposures and/or investment strategies that are positioned to perform under such conditions. For example: high quality stock portfolios
and volatility managed strategies. (Note, for the remainder of this blog post, the Russell 1000® Defensive Index (R1D) and the CBOE S&P 500 BuyWrite Index (BXM) will be used as proxies for high quality and volatility managed approaches to demonstrate the merit of such strategies
A short walk down memory lane
Some investors may recall that high quality and volatility managed strategies were praised in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 market correction because they had held up relatively well during that turbulent time. However, enthusiasm has since waned because neither high quality nor volatility managed strategies have posted exceptionally strong performance since that period. It’s true: since the market bottom in 2009, both strategies have lagged
the broader U.S. stock market (represented by the Russell 1000®
Sources: U.S. Equity: Russell 1000 Indexes. BXM: CBOE S&P 500 BuyWrite Index
The reality is that high quality and volatility managed strategies
generally tend to lag during periods of lower market volatility. And that’s exactly the type of market environment investors have enjoyed since 2009. But if that is changing now – if markets are returning to a higher volatility and/or lower return environment – investors may want to reconsider their position on high quality and volatility managed investment strategies.
Historically shining in periods of low market returns
During periods of lower returns (defined as three-year periods when the Russell 1000®
Index averages less than 5%), the Russell Defensive Index and the BXM have both posted better average returns than the broad market. Since July of 1986 (inception date of the BXM), the Russell 1000®
Index has produced “low” three year returns 28% of the time. During those periods, defensive and low volatility strategies have outperformed the broad market
by approximately 2% per year on average.
Historically winning in periods of higher market volatility
To evaluate how these strategies have historically held up during periods marked by higher market volatility, we divided the market history into thirds
based on the level of volatility over three-year time frames. During the periods with the “lowest” volatility, the broad market generally outpaced defensive and low volatility strategies. However, during periods with “medium” and “high” amounts of volatility, the story shifts. Defensive strategies beat the broad market in both scenarios, and low volatility strategies top both in higher volatility markets.
Historically outpacing during periods of low returns and high volatility
Based on the results high quality and low volatility strategies posted during periods of either low returns or high volatility, it should come as no surprise that these strategies have also fared better than the broad market
when markets are marked by both volatility and
The bottom line
It’s difficult to project where the market will go next. There are indications that volatility may be picking up again and many market observers are projecting a lower return environment going forward. Of course, just because high quality and volatility managed strategies have helped portfolios weather high volatility and low return environments in the past, doesn’t mean they will be able to reproduce similar results in the future. However, it may be worth considering them for the U.S. equity part of client portfolios.