It is well known by traders that the VIX has a strong tendency to oscillate. Therefore, when people consider trading the VIX, they many times think mean-reverting strategies will work best. I took some simple mean-reverting strategies and applied them to the index to see what kind of returns I would get. Two examples were: 1) Short the VIX if it closes 15% or more above its 10-day moving average. Cover when it closes below its 10-day moving average. 2) Short the VIX if it closes at a 10-day high. Cover when it closes below its 10-day moving average. In both cases the opposite stretch would apply for purchases. Not surprisingly, they worked. What was intriguing was HOW WELL they worked. I then combined these strategies with a few others to create an indicator which would signal to me when the VIX was stretched and due for a reversal.
Assuming you treated the VIX as a security and allocated a certain dollar amount whenever you bought/shorted it, over the last 3 years my simple system would have returned about 170% per year based on raw returns (no commissions or slippage).
Now, to see the effect that trading futures would have on the system, I downloaded all the historical data from CBOE and ran the trades through using front month options. I performed rollovers those times when the future expired before the trade closed. Note that the entry and exit triggers were based on the action in the VIX – not in the futures. The purpose of the study was to see whether someone could trade futures/options based on the action in the VIX index. The results? Instead of returning 170%/yr over the last 3 years, the system now returned 5% total!! Factor in some commissions and slippage and my incredible system is now a money-loser.
Moral of the story: Be careful when trading VIX options / futures. Simple systems which look spectacular on the VIX cash index simply do not translate.
Below are some informative links which also discuss this issue.