Jason Zweig: Prepare Rather Than Worry About Increased Volatility

The low volatility currently seen in the market is causing concern for many portfolio managers, according to a recent Wall Street Journal article by Jason Zweig.

Zweig says many investors share the view of portfolio manager Brian Singer of William Blair & Co. who argues: “The global market’s ongoing low volatility should be unsettling for investors.” And, while Zweig conceded that the VIX (CBOE Volatility Index) is “brushing lows set nearly a quarter-century ago,” he’s not convinced that the worry is warranted. He points out that the VIX is only about 30-years old and that stocks have “fluctuated in a narrow band about 80% of the time—similar to their current behavior.”

Zweig cites comments by University of Rochester finance professor William Schwert, who has studied volatility for over 30 years and asserts, “I don’t think it means anything.”

Regarding exchange-traded funds intended to profit if volatility increases, Zweig advises, “avoid them” explaining that they can “deviate wildly from the underlying performance of the VIX, sometimes delivering bloodcurdling losses.” Instead, he suggests guarding against complacency by ensuring that you have enough cash to endure a downturn, are not “overexposed” to stocks, and have “money-losing positions you can sell to harvest a tax loss.”