What the Volatility Markets Are Telling Us blog banner

What the Volatility Markets Are Telling Us About the 2020 Election’s Impact

Michael Zaslavsky photo

Michael Zaslavsky, CFA, CAIA

Senior Investment Strategist

More about this author

This year’s election results could have major implications for equity valuations.

It’s fair to contend that the country has never been as polarized as it is today. This year’s election outcome will have a profound impact on equity valuations—or at least that’s what the market appears to be telling us. While there are alternative or supplementary explanations for the expected uptick in valuation volatility (such as a resurgence in COVID-19 infections), there will undoubtedly be strong impacts on various industries due to the election itself. Election Day has the potential to surprise us in many aspects:

  • A contested voteThis could drive a massive downside for the equity markets as it did during the 2000 election—until the Supreme Court’s ruling.
  • Taxes. Biden’s tax proposal could cost as much as 12% of the S&P 500® earning, but deficit reaction could offset longer-term growth according to sources in the industry.
  • Regulations. Surprisingly, there are no historical relationships between returns or multiples and the quantity of regulations levied against corporations.
  • Industrials. Though it’s perceived that tighter regulations under Biden would impair industrials, an infrastructure bill would offset a Democratic sweep.
  • Defense. A Trump victory and a split Congress would likely result in more defense modernization, while a Democratic sweep could result in a large military reduction.
  • Health care. As long as Congress remains split, a Biden win would not necessarily have an impact on the industry, for better or worse depending on sub-sectors. 
  • Banks. Analysts don’t predict any major regulatory changes.
  • Internet. A Biden victory is perceived as positive for internet stocks.
  • Gaming. Trade issues could extend beyond import or export goods to services like gaming, with Macau gaming concessions expecting to be renewed in 2022.
  • Home builders. A potential repeal of the deduction gap for state and local taxes could boost demand—particularly in the high-tax coastal states.

With this year’s referendum likely to result in valuation changes, we turn our attention to the question of how much. Let’s discuss the implied valuation volatility for large-cap US stocks as proxied by the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX®) and its derivatives. 

What’s the VIX® again, you ask? Akin to the S&P 500® Index, which is calculated by market-capitalization-weighting the 500 largest publicly traded companies in the US, the VIX® Index is calculated by weighting the expected volatility embedded in the pricing of S&P 500® put and call options. Without going into further detail, we can simply state that the VIX®-squared is equal to the fair value of one-month variance swaps. Thus, the index provides the market’s collective forecast of likely gyrations in US large-cap stocks for the next month.

As of yesterday’s settle of 28.56, the market is undoubtedly implying future volatility, which is substantially larger than that which was realized during Q3 (about 17% annualized). This is, of course, due to the fact that the referenced one-month period includes election results, conclusive or inconclusive. Consequently, an interesting exercise involves the estimation of implied moves assuming that such movement isn’t expected to be regular—rather, confined to a small number of large moves surrounding the election results.

Let’s say that the S&P 500® realizes volatility equal to that realized during Q3 (approximately 1.1% per day) on days that are subjectively not impacted by election results. We then back into the magnitude required to realize 28.56% volatility assuming such movement is limited to a particular quantity of days. 

Volatility Risk Premium (VRP) solutions

What could the VIX® be implying?

For illustrative purposes only. Parametric does not warrant any particular market movement or corresponding VIX®level..

What’s even more interesting is that we can derive predicted levels of the VIX® from the VIX® futures market. Whereas yesterday’s VIX® settlement is known as the spot price, one-month VIX® futures with a “delivery” date of November 18 settled at 29.30%. Notice that the November 18 level is higher than yesterday’s 28.56% level that references options that contain today through November 20 (inclusive of the election). In contrast, the November 18 VIX® references options that only contain November 18 to December 15 (exclusive of the election). So, what gives?

Market practitioners are generally attributing this contango (a future price greater than today’s price) to the possibility of a lengthy and turbulent election process. Here’s an analogy: whereas publicly traded equities typically have a known earnings announcement date, this “United States earnings event” has an unexpected earnings announcement date. Moreover, it’s impossible to know in advance whether the earnings will be readily available at one instant in time or slowly dripped in a piecemeal fashion, potentially jolting markets up or down as the information becomes digested.

There’s an old adage that claims that such high levels of implied uncertainty indicate that the market has no idea how the market is going to react. Making directional predictions for the period through the end of the year will be tough—so it’s best to just acknowledge that it’s going to be a very wild finish. 

More to explore

The views expressed in these posts are those of the authors and are current only through the date stated. These views are subject to change at any time based upon market or other conditions, and Parametric and its affiliates disclaim any responsibility to update such views. These views may not be relied upon as investment advice and, because investment decisions for Parametric are based on many factors, may not be relied upon as an indication of trading intent on behalf of any Parametric strategy. The discussion herein is general in nature and is provided for informational purposes only. There is no guarantee as to its accuracy or completeness. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All investments are subject to the risk of loss. Prospective investors should consult with a tax or legal advisor before making any investment decision. Please refer to the Disclosure page on our website for important information about investments and risks.