Investors are shifting their investment allocations from active to passive management. This trend has accelerated in recent years. The investors who are shifting from active to passive are less informed than those who stay. This is equivalent to the weak players leaving the poker table. Since the winners need losers, this can make the market even more efficient, and hence less attractive, for those who remain. If you can’t identify the patsy, or weak player, it’s probably you. ... Passive management has lower costs than active management and hence delivers higher returns per dollar invested than active management does in the aggregate. However, passive management introduces the possibility of market distortions, including crowding and illiquidity. Exchange-traded funds, in particular, are worth watching closely because of their explosive growth and high trading volume. ... Four drivers have led to the development of the mutual fund industry and, more recently, to the shift toward passive investing. These include regulation, the market environment, technology, and the balance between informed and uninformed investors.
Volatility was once merely a mathematical measure for investors of how sharply markets moved. Today, volatility is a complex multibillion-dollar market in its own right, played by everyone from sophisticated hedge funds to gum-chewing day traders. ... But Vix is also one of the finance industry’s biggest enigmas. This should be a moment of potential peril for markets, with US interest rates rising, heightened geopolitical tension and a populist outsider in the White House. Yet Vix has remained largely tranquil. ... the evaporation of volatility also reflects profound structural changes that have taken place since the financial crisis, such as the primacy of central banks and the big shift into exchange traded funds. ... the index’s inventor is unhappy about, given structural flaws that make these products ill-suited for retail investors. Constantly buying new futures is costly, and Vix futures are typically in “contango”, when longer-term contracts are more expensive than near-term ones. In practice this means that Vix ETPs are most of the time slowly bleeding to death.