January 11, 2012 at 12:16 PM EST
Three New Risk Control ETFs from Direxion

Today Direxion announced they have launched three ETFs whose intent is to match their exposure to an underlying equity index based upon current levels of market volatility. The new ETFs are as follows:

  • Direxion S&P 500 RC Volatility Response Shares (VSPY)
  • Direxion S&P 1500 RC Volatility Response Shares (VSPR)
  • Direxion S&P Latin America 40 RC Volatility Response Shares (VLAT)

The launch of these ETFs expands Direxion’s stable of what they call “rules-based index ETFs,” which began with two ETFs that are based on insider trading data: INSD and KNOW. The three new ETFs also arrive just five days after S&P announced a new S&P Dynamic Rebalancing Risk Control Index Series, which provides the basis for evaluating volatility and matching equity exposure to anticipated risk.

The intent of these ETFs is spelled out by Direxion:

“The Funds embody a rules-based investment approach that uses volatility as a gauge to determine equity exposure. They operate according to the principle that exposure to equities should be reduced during periods of higher overall market volatility, and increased during periods of a more stable (lower volatility) market environment. Each Fund has a target volatility level for its corresponding index. When volatility moves above those levels, the Funds will increase their exposure to U.S. Treasuries and decrease their exposure to equities. The Funds will proportionately increase exposure to equities during periods of low market volatility.”

Readers with sharp memories may recall that back in July 2010, Direxion was the first ETF provider to announce that they would be launching a product based on the S&P 500 Dynamic VEQTOR Index, which was an effort to mitigate risk with a dynamic allocation of VIX short-term futures, essentially the equivalent of sizing a VXX hedge based on observed levels of implied volatility and historical volatility. I am not sure why Direxion’s VEQTOR product never saw the light of day, but Barclays ended up with one of the few successful VIX ETPs in 2011 (see VIX Exchange-Traded Products: The Year in Review, 2011) with its Barclays ETN+ S&P VEQTOR ETN (VQT) product, which I made a strong case for back in October 2010 in The Case for VQT.

One of the interesting aspects of the approach taken by VSPY, VSPR and VLAT is that these products will tend to have minimum exposure when the VIX is at its highest – and as anyone who has ever looked a chart of the VIX and SPX/SPY knows, this is typically when stocks bottom and begin a sharp bullish move.

With impeccable timing, EconomPic Data just happened to publish a study yesterday, VIX as a Predictor of Equity Returns, which concluded that for the most part, SPY daily returns were much higher with an elevated VIX than with a historically low VIX.

All this raises the question of how to play increased volatility and risk. In the land of ETPs, there are quite a few alternatives, including:

  • Barclays ETN+ S&P VEQTOR ETN (VQT) – dynamically hedge with a long VIX futures position
  • Direxion’s VSPY and VSPR to dynamically adjust exposure to equities
  • PowerShares low volatility (SPLV) and high beta (SPHB) approaches for manual market timing
  • ETRACS Fisher-Gartman Risk On ETN (ONN) and ETRACS Fisher-Gartman Risk Off ETN (OFF) – for those who wish to manually time the multi-asset class risk on/risk off trade

Investors who believe they are more adept at timing the market may prefer to avoid the rules-based products that dynamically adjust exposure based on a static risk measurement mechanism. For those who prefer not to watch their portfolio closely or are not convinced that they can do a better job than the likes of VQT, VSPY and perhaps SPLV, the new category of dynamic risk exposure products should provide some excellent tools for portfolio augmentation and in some cases, portfolio replacement.

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Disclosure(s): short VXX at time of writing

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