VXX: Trading Volatility in January

January 5, 2017


When it comes to volatility, 2016 went out with a whimper. That could all change in January, as traders begin to look for a more tangible justification for the stock market’s latest bull run. The Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, also known as the “fear index,” measures expectations of implied volatility over the next 30 days as conveyed by S&P 500 Index option prices. Below is a list of key market-moving events that could spark volatility during the month of January.

January 4: Eurozone CPI (December), FOMC Minutes (December)

The European Commission’s statistics branch will release preliminary inflation figures for the month of December. Inflation data have direct implications on the European Central Bank (ECB), which only last month extended its bond-buying program by an additional nine months.

The minutes of the December 13-14 Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting will be also released on January 4. The Fed voted to raise interest rates by 25 basis points in December for the first time in a year and struck a more hawkish tone about the pace and timing of future hikes. A similarly hawkish reading of the FOMC minutes could elicit a volatile response from the financial markets.

January 6: US Nonfarm Payrolls (December)

US nonfarm payrolls is arguably the most closely followed economic event of the month. US employers added 178,000 nonfarm jobs in November. Another similar reading for December will feed into expectations about the US economy and Federal Reserve policy. These expectations will may have a direct impact on the S&P 500 Index.

January 18: US CPI (December), US Industrial Production (December), Federal Reserve Interest Rate Decision

January 18 might be a highly volatile day for the US stock market. The Labor Department will release December consumer inflation data. Faster inflation expectations were part of the Fed’s justification for raising interest rates in December. Evidence of stronger inflationary pressures will only affirm the view that central bank policy may gradually tighten throughout 2017.

Separately, the Federal Reserve will release its industrial production and capacity utilization figures for the month of December.

Finally, the Federal Reserve will issue its latest policy decision on January 18. While the US central bank is unlikely to raise rates in January, it could signal the pace and timing of further adjustments.

January 19: ECB Interest Rate Decision

In December, the ECB extended its bond-buying program for at least nine months, but said the size of those purchases would decline to €60 billion from €80 billion beginning in April.[1] The smaller size of asset purchases raised concerns that the ECB was “tapering” its bond-buying program. Central bank President Mario Draghi may attempt to quell those fears at the January meeting, and his comments will have a direct impact on the markets.

January 20: Donald Trump Inauguration

On January 20, Donald Trump will be sworn in as United States President. The event will be closely followed by the financial markets and will be accompanied by speculation about the new Republican administration’s economic policies. Trump has promised massive fiscal stimulus and even bigger corporate tax cuts, both of which have inspired massive rallies on Wall Street and pushed volatility to extremely low levels. Any doubts about Trump’s proposed plans could undermine the market’s recent upturn.

January 27: US Fourth Quarter GDP, US durable goods orders

The health of the US economy will be on display January 27 when the Commerce Department reports on fourth quarter gross domestic product (GDP). The US economy expanded at a faster 3.5% annualized pace in the third quarter.[2] While growth is not expected to be as robust in Q4, the economy likely ended the year on a high note.

Separately, the Commerce Department will report on December durable goods orders, an important measure of manufacturing demand.


All these events may trigger volatility in the financial markets, giving traders plenty of opportunity to capitalize on the VXX Fear Index. To keep track on all the latest market-moving events, be sure to follow the economic calendar.

[1] Jeff Black (December 8, 2016). “Draghi’s Anti-Taper Keeps ECB Stimulus Live for 2017’s Risks.” Bloomberg Markets.

[2] Bureau of Economic Analysis, US Department of Commerce (December 22, 2016). GDP Increases in Third Quarter.

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