You don’t have to be a professional investor to make a killing in the volatility market.
Just ask Seth M. Golden, who previously worked as a logistics manager at a Target store.
The 40-year-old, who lives in a suburb of Ocala, Florida, says he’s grown his net worth from $500,000 to $12 million in five years by shorting the CBOE Volatility Index – or VIX – according to a report from Dealbook’s Landon Thomas Jr.
It’s a trade that’s worked extremely well this year: The VIX has fallen 19% as investors have looked unperturbed by middling economic data and escalating geopolitical tension. The so-called stock market fear gauge even went as far as to hit a record low on July 21.
Golden’s investment vehicles of choice are the Barclays iPath S&P 500 Short Term Futures ETN (VXX) and the ProShares Ultra VIX Short Term Futures (UVXY), Thomas found. Both are popular exchange-traded products used to bet on the VIX, and he shorts them. The VXX is the biggest vehicle of its type, attracting more than $14 billion of inflows since 2012, according to data compiled by FactSet and reported by Dealbook.
He employs a strategy that’s the inverse of the “buy the dip” trade, which involves adding to long positions on weakness. In Golden’s case, he waits for the VXX and UVXY to surge, then shorts them further.
A large part of his investment thesis is that, because the VXX and UVXY are simply vessels used to track the VIX, they’re predisposed to fall over time as they near expiration. Golden also sees a longer-term trend of volatility moving downward into a new, more subdued regime, Thomas found.
Yet while Golden has found major success trading VIX-linked instruments, the massive short positions on the fear gauge – regularly identified as one of the market’s most dangerously crowded trades – have been a source of consternation for some in the investment community. JPMorgan quant guru Marko Kolanovic, for one, has repeatedly warned of the ever-present possibility of a big, unexpected market move, which could result in a painful unwind.
Still, those shorting the VIX continue to double down, Golden included. He plans to start a hedge fund that will short the VIX, according to Thomas’ report. And he says investor interest is strong – so strong, in fact, that they’re offering him $100 million for starters.
“Yes, it is a crowded trade,” Mr. Golden acknowledged to Dealbook. “But I don’t worry about crowds – I just worry what the next existential shock might be.”