Stocks finished higher but off their best levels on Monday in a quiet, low-volume, low-volatility, summer day kind of session. The S&P 500 briefly rose above 2,000 for the first time — cue the trumpets — before slipping back into the 1,990s.
Monetary policy remained the big focus following the Jackson Hole global economics retreat headlined by Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, whose comments were widely described as balanced and slightly less dovish than expected. Reuters reported that there was pressure building within the Fed to more clearly acknowledge improvement in the economy and lay the groundwork for tightening. Changes to Fed interest-rate statement language could come as early as the September or October meetings.
Meanwhile, we’ve only got one week left in August, which is a month that is typically quite treacherous for stock prices. This month started out that way but here in the middle has featured a splendid flourish and is now on track to finish with a whopping gain of as much as 3% at all-time highs.
As for September, however, you can cue the dirge music, because it has the worst reputation among all months — which is well deserved. During the past 100 years, according to Bespoke Investment Group data, the Dow has averaged a decline of 0.83% in September with gains just 43% of the time. The only other month that has even averaged a decline during the last 100 years is February, and that decline is just 2 basis points.
During the last 50 years, September has also been the worst month of the year, with the Dow averaging a decline of 0.77% and posting gains just 39% of the time. During the last 20 years, the average decline has been a little bit better, but not by much at -0.51%, according to the Bespoke data, shown below.
Stocks are certainly overbought now after their spring higher from the August lows, which could set the market up for a traditionally brutal September. But not for long, as October through December is the best three-month stretch of the year. So, should there be a big September slam-down, you’ll want to very methodically take advantage. One way to do so is to go ahead and pick up some calls directly on the S&P 500 Volatility Index (VIX) while they are cheap.
The S&P 500 itself is up 4.6% from its low on Aug. 7, but the VIX is down more than 29% in response. That’s about 6.5 times more than the underlying stock action that the “fear index” supposedly tracks. In fact, this differential is quite common — one of the few major anomalies left in markets where such quirks have been largely ironed out by high-frequency traders and their army of algorithmic e-bots.
Here’s how you can make the most of this environment and profit as soon as stocks inevitably take another dip, sending the VIX much higher from its current lows:
Buy the VIX Sept. 17th $13 calls at current levels, and set up to sell when they reach $2.05. That way, you’ll be set up for a profit of more than 75% while others are scrambling to close out long trades in a tough month for equities.
Jon Markman operates the investment firm Markman Capital Insights. He also offers a daily trading advisory service, Trader’s Advantage, and CounterPoint Options, a service that helps individual traders make steady, consistent profits with volatility-related instruments.