Let's face it, this holiday weekend is all about relaxing, eating and achieving a glazed look of contentment. The last thing you want to digest between bites of burgers, big beefsteak tomatoes and the final ears of summer sweet corn, is some highfalutin', detail-filled options concepts. No, with the hammock beckoning, it'll take only a few sentences before you'll all settle into a position based on midafternoon time decay (aka a nap).
This week seems like a good time to revisit some popular topics and briefly expand on recurring questions such as the VIX and the put/call ratio.
The VIX -- the options volatility index -- contracting to multiyear lows, continued to be a hot topic. My long-standing view that decline in the VIX and its related measures such as the VXN was simply a return to more normal levels following a five-year period of extraordinary volatility (a huge run-up followed by an extended market "crash") has been met with varying degrees of inquisition and hostility:
"Forget the VIX and trust Steve's anecdotal evidence. O.K. Steve, whatever you say....... LOL!!!!!"
My first response was simply to ask this reader to do some homework: "Look at the historical data about the VIX and its ability to call market tops vs. bottoms. I'll let you know that it's a great flag for market bottoms: 86% of the time that it's crossed 50, the market rebounds by more than 5% over the next five trading days. But look at how the market performedover the last 20 years, and reference that against the VIX. What has happened when the VIX has dropped below 20? How many instances? What has happened over the next six months?" and so on?
He declined to do the exercise, so I'll supply some of the answers. The VIX spent four years (1993-97) below 20, and during that time the
gained some 83%. For more illumination and historical data, please look at this past
Like any indicator, the more widely it's embraced and tracked, the more diminished its predictive reliability. Now that the VIX has traded mostly on the south side of 20 for the past two weeks without precipitating any major selloff, it seems the popular press has moved on to the put/call ratio as the next hot contrary indicator. Many readers have written in looking for sources and ways to divine the data.
"Any chance you can tell me where you can get the put/call ratio in index products?"
"The put/call ratio on the September QQQ options is 'a whopping 2.32' This is bullish, right?"
are just two examples.
To begin with, check the definition and various ways that put/call ratios can be calculated by going back to
The Chicago Board of Options Exchange, while no longer the lead options exchange, has a
Web site that still does a great job of providing current and historical data. It breaks out the open interest and P/C volume for all products and specific index products. Because the CBOE has an exclusive on the SPX and OEX, those readings can be trusted to be all-encompassing and accurate. Scroll toward the bottom of that page and you'll see the breakout of various index products.
For other individual indices or exchange traded funds, or individual stocks, one good free site is
Taking Care of Business with Dr. J. It will allow you five free quotes a day, which enables you to simply tally the numbers.
Remember: The put/call also is a contrary indicator; a very high P/C (above 1.5) would be construed as bullish, because the large number of puts essentially acts as an insurance policy for aggressive buying.
Steven Smith writes regularly for TheStreet.com. In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, he doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships. He was a seatholding member of the Chicago Board of Trade (CBOT) and the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) from May 1989 to August 1995. During that six-year period, he traded multiple markets for his own personal account and acted as an executing broker for third-party accounts. He invites you to send your feedback to