Although most investors have been pleased with the steadily rising U.S stock market over the past six months, funds that profit when markets are convulsing are licking their wounds.
With market stress at multi-year lows, volatility hedge funds returned just 1.16 percent in the first quarter, compared with 3.7 percent for the broader hedge fund group.
Some of the volatility specialists are doing better than others by capitalizing on major market moves in Japan, for example. And some are doing better simply because they are ‘short’ volatility funds – they tend to perform better when markets are calmer. But those funds are now few and far between.
“If I were to turn the clock back there were a lot more short volatility funds than long in 2004,” said Joshua Thimons, a portfolio manager at PIMCO. “There are fewer now – 2008 wiped most of the face of the map.” Short volatility funds earn a risk premium by selling volatility in the markets, capitalizing on the fact “that some managers use it as tail hedging,” he explained. “These funds have done better this year, but there are fewer of them.”
The problem the long volatility funds face right now– and long vol funds now make up the lion’s share of the strategy – is that, quite simply, there’s not a lot of volatility. Even the short volatility funds require some degree of movement in the market for there to be a relative value opportunity to exploit.