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Home > Business > Columnists > Guest Column > Varun Agrawal

How the volatility index will help markets

December 26, 2007

Sebi's intention of introducing a volatility index (V-I) and derivatives based on it for Indian markets is a welcome move.

The Rammohan Rao committee's proposed V-I, among other things, signifies the financial sector's coming of age.

India's futures and options market has seen a boom in the past five years. While a total of only 176,000 index put/call options worth Rs 3,800 crore (Rs 38 billion) were traded on the NSE in 2001-02, those numbers have skyrocketed to 25 million and Rs 7,92,000 crore (Rs 7920 billion) respectively, in 2006-07.

Similarly, the total trading volume in NSE options has jumped from a paltry $555 million in 2000-01 to $1.7 trillion in 2006-07.

That's a neck-breaking 214 per cent compounded growth rate y-o-y. With such growth in volumes, the time is ripe to introduce long-awaited new products.

The V-I will measure the market's expectation of Nifty/Sensex volatility over the coming month (30-day period). Since 1993, VIX, the first volatility index introduced by the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE), has been a huge hit.

A number of other exchanges around the world have also introduced some mutation of it and have had the same experience.

The V-I will help Indian markets in more ways than one. First, it will be the most direct measure of the increasing market volatility and will thus be helpful in the pricing of options.

Second, this measurement will help investors hedge and speculate over the very property of volatility.

Third, its input will enhance better prediction by Value at Risk (VaR) and other risk management models.

Fourth, it will reduce transaction costs for betting on volatility because the speculator will have to buy only one VIX derivative, instead of at least two for constructing strangle/straddles.

Fifth, it will encourage market participants to move 'onshore' instead of playing in private offshore arenas.

But even beyond these uses, it sends a very important signal worldwide, that India is ready to move to the next level of financial maturity. While our capital markets are very well-developed (the BSE is the world's largest in terms of the number of scrips listed, while the NSE is the world's largest by stock futures trading volume), there is a dearth of modern financial products. Sebi's wish to introduce seven new products including V-I is a well-thought out decision to break out of the shackles.

According to recent news reports, India Index Services & Products Ltd (IISL), a joint venture between CRISIL and NSE, has expressed a desire to be a leading player for devising the index. It is likely to do so because of its experience in this space.

However, it's not that the rollover will be smooth. There are certain unique issues that will have to be tackled. The single biggest problem in devising the index will be liquidity concerns.

Indian derivative markets are still in the budding stage. While the number of puts and calls traded on the index has risen significantly, their depth and liquidity is a major concern. All this might lead to 'holes' while constructing the proposed volatility index.

According to my preliminary research, in all likelihood, we'll follow the old VIX methodology for calculating V-I. The new VIX methodology might be unsuitable for calculating the Indian volatility index because options on Nifty, though aplenty at at-the-money strike, show an erratic behaviour for out-of-money and in-the-money strikes.

Thus, a better and more practical method would be to go for the old VIX methodology which uses eight at-the-money options. These are relatively easily available and are more traded than their counterparts.

The first to cash in on opportunities in new derivative products in India are large institutional players who have already tried their hands at similar products in other markets, like the CBOE, NYSE or LME.

The situation might not be any different here. The first to jump on the bandwagon would be foreign banks and other large institutional players. Retail investors will be the last to try their hands at V-I futures and options because of the classic risk-averse mentality.

They are likely to wait and see what other participants are doing before giving it a shot. That said, even the average retail investor is expected to use the V-I as an index to gauge where the market is going and use the insights in buying options on other securities and shares.

One of the problems cited in Mumbai's way to becoming an IFC is the lack of innovative financial products. While the V-I is not the panacea for all financial problems, it certainly is a very good indicator of Sebi's long-term reforms to align India with global best practices and vision.

The writer, a student at New Delhi's Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, can be reached at

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