A Trader Betting on Market Turmoil

While betting against market upset has been “one of the longest-running and most profitable trades in recent financial history,” hedge fund manager Christopher Cole is “arguing with the passionate intensity of a true believer that this market calm cannot last.” This according to a recent article in The New York Times.

Cole, chief of Artemis Capital (which manages about $200 million) says, “Optically, volatility is still very low, but fear is increasing.” The article cites a parallel between Cole’s stance and the sentiment preceding the stock market crash of 1987, “when investors were similarly lulled into believing that volatility would not erupt.”

The article points out that the VIX index (which reflects market volatility) “recently sank to a multidecade low of just below 9,” adding that contributing factors include “aggressive money printing and bond purchasing by global central banks and the profusion of exchange traded investments, which make it cheap and easy for professionals and amateurs alike to bet on a falling VIX.” Cole, however, is betting on the opposite and offering investors downside protection through products such as derivatives– that will pay off in the event of a spike in the VIX.

According to Cole, the article says, “as much as $1.5 trillion in investor money is betting the markets will remain as they more or less have been since 2009: volatility free.” But he argues that if the VIX were to shoot up significantly, panic could send the market plummeting. “Ultimately,” the article asserts, “he believes that those who have held volatility in abeyance for so long—from risk parity funds to global central banks—will face a reckoning.”