The Art of Volatility Management: A Closer Look at the Best VIX ETFs for Market Volatility

Navigating the choppy waters of market volatility is a challenging but necessary endeavor for investors. Volatility, as measured by the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), is a reflection of the market’s turbulence and often signals periods of uncertainty and potential risk. While many investors shy away from volatility, seeing it as a liability, astute traders see it as an opportunity. Exchange-Traded Funds (ETFs) are a popular vehicle for expressing views on volatility, offering a range of investment strategies for those looking to hedge or leverage opportunities in tumultuous times.

In this comprehensive exploration, we’ll dissect the various VIX ETFs, examining their unique features, performance in different market scenarios, and the important factors to consider when integrating them into your investment or trading strategy.

Understanding Market Volatility and the VIX

Before we jump into the world of VIX ETFs, it’s vital to grasp the fundamentals of market volatility. Volatility can arise from unexpected news, economic factors, or geopolitical events, and it directly impacts the price of options, which are financial tools that derive value from underlying securities.

The VIX, often referred to as the “fear gauge,” is one of the primary tools investors use to assess market risk. It measures the implied volatility of S&P 500 index options and is a critical metric in options pricing. A high VIX value suggests expectations of large, abrupt price movements and is often viewed as a signal to potential market uncertainty and bearish sentiment.

The Role of VIX ETFs in Investment Portfolios

VIX ETFs allow investors to directly or indirectly track the VIX, providing exposure to volatility without the need to trade options directly. Investors may include VIX ETFs in their portfolios for several reasons:

  • Hedging Against Market Downturns: VIX ETFs can act as a hedge, potentially negating losses from downturns in equity markets.
  • Leveraging Volatility: Traders with a high-risk tolerance can use VIX ETFs to leverage volatility for potential profit.
  • Diversification: They offer a way to diversify beyond traditional asset classes, which can improve a portfolio’s risk-return profile.

Choosing the Right VIX ETF for Your Investment Goals

Selecting the right VIX ETF that aligns with your investment objectives and risk tolerance is crucial. Here’s an in-depth look at a few factors to consider:

Fund Structure

VIX ETFs come in different structures, including futures-based, options-based, and composite-based. Each structure has its benefits and complexities, stemming from the methodologies used to track volatility.

Expense Ratios

As with any investment, understanding the costs involved is essential. Lower expense ratios can significantly impact long-term returns, especially in the case of leveraged or daily reset ETFs.

Leveraged or Inverse ETFs

Investors must be cautious with leveraged (2x or 3x) and inverse VIX ETFs, as they may not provide returns in-line with the VIX over extended periods due to compounding effects.

Historical Performance

While past performance is not indicative of future results, analyzing an ETF’s historical performance across different market conditions can offer insights into how it may behave in the future.

Volatility Regime

Consider the volatility regime in which the ETF performs best. For example, some ETFs might excel during prolonged volatility, while others are well-suited for short-term spikes.


High liquidity is favorable, ensuring that you can enter and exit positions with minimal impact on the market price.

Tax Implications

Some VIX ETFs may have tax consequences due to their structure and the way they are managed. Consulting with a tax professional can help avoid any unexpected tax bills.

The Best VIX ETFs and Their Unique Offerings

Now that we’re familiar with what to look for, it’s time to introduce some of the leading VIX ETFs and what makes them stand out.

iPath Series B S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (VXXB)

VXXB offers exposure to volatility through short-term VIX futures contracts, providing a near-term, liquid, and cost-effective way to hedge equity market risk. It sees heavy trading volume and is considered a benchmark for volatility ETFs.

ProShares VIX Short-Term Futures ETF (VIXY)

Seeking to track the performance of the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index, VIXY offers exposure to a daily rolling long position in the first and second month VIX futures contracts. It is a popular choice for those looking to capitalize on short-term volatility spikes.

VelocityShares Daily 2x VIX Short-Term ETN (TVIX)

For traders with a high appetite for risk, TVIX offers twice the daily performance of the S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Index. Its leveraged structure makes it a powerful tool, but one that requires strategic use to manage the associated risks.

Advanced VIX ETFs Strategies

Seasoned traders often employ advanced strategies when using VIX ETFs. These include:

Spread Strategies

Spreads can be used to leverage the differences in implied volatility between contracts of different expirations, potentially providing a smoother return profile.

Contango and Backwardation

Understanding the concepts of contango and backwardation is essential for those investing in futures-based VIX ETFs, as they significantly impact ETF performance.

Volatility Skew

The options market can exhibit a skew in implied volatility, with options at different strikes or expirations having different implied volatilities. Exploring the skew can offer insights into the market’s expectations and provide trading opportunities.

Risks and Considerations with VIX ETFs

While VIX ETFs can provide valuable exposure to market volatility, they are not without risks. Some considerations include:


The sophisticated nature of VIX ETFs can make them challenging for novice investors to understand. It’s crucial to thoroughly research and ideally consult with a financial advisor before investing.

Decaying Assets

Futures-based ETFs can suffer from contango, which occurs when the forward price of a futures contract is higher than the expected future spot price. Contango can erode the value of the ETF over time, especially in a constant or rising volatility environment.

Short-Term Trading Vehicles

Many VIX ETFs are designed for short-term trading and may not be suitable for long-term investment due to their daily reset structure, which can lead to divergence in returns from the VIX index.

Extreme Volatility

VIX ETFs are themselves highly volatile, with the potential to see extreme price swings, particularly during significant market events.


Volatility is an inescapable reality of the markets, yet it offers opportunities for savvy investors. VIX ETFs can be powerful tools to manage risk, pursue profit, and enhance portfolio diversification. Whether you are new to the game or a seasoned player, understanding the intricacies of VIX ETFs is essential for success.

By carefully considering the factors outlined in this post, incorporating VIX ETFs in a strategic and informed manner can contribute to a more robust and resilient investment approach. Take the time to assess your investment goals, educate yourself on the various products, and always remember that due diligence and risk management are the cornerstones of profitable volatility trading.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *