Archive for October, 2008

What is the VIX?

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

The VIX is a measure of market risk, sometimes called the fear index.  It is used to gauge investor sentiment – whether the broad stock market in the United States is bullish or bearish.  VIX actually stands for volatility index.  it is the ticker symbol for one of the volatility indexes created by the Chicago Board Options Exchange (the “CBOE”).  In fact, the VIX is the most widely used volatility index, and was introduced by Duke University Professor Dr. Robert Whalley in 1993.

Volatility is the fluctuation in the market price of an underlying security.  The VIX measures market expectations of near-term volatility conveyed by S&P500 near-term options prices.  Specfically, the VIX presently is calculated by measuring the volatility of out-of-the-money put and call options on S&P500 stocks for the two nearest expiration months.  It anticipates the volatility of the S&P500 over the next 30 days.  A VIX of 30 means, roughly, that over the next 30-day period, the S&P500 will move 30% on an annualized basis (i.e., more info

8.66% over the next 30 days).

Typically, the VIX is inversely related to market tops and bottoms.  For example, a high VIX implies pessimism and usually means a market is bottoming.  Low values imply optimism.  However, using the VIX solely to determine a market bottom or top doesn’t work because the method isn’t foolproof.  However, there’s no cap on how high the VIX can go.  Historically, a VIX reading of 30 has been a high number. but the VIX has traded over 70 in October, 2008.   Consequently, It should not be used in a vacuum, but is best used with other indicators in order to provide investment guidance.

On March 26, 2004, the CBOE began offering futures contracts on the VIX for trading.  On February 24, 2006, the CBE listed options on the VIX for trading.

VIX and More is a blog that follows the VIX.  Volatility Trading is a new book with a CD-ROM on trading the VIX.

Foreclosure and Two Ways to Avoid Going Through It

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Foreclosure means that a borrower can not make the required principal and/or interest payments on a loan secured by an interest in property.  Because of the borrower’s default, the lender has a right to terminate the borrower’s interest in the property.  The procedures vary from state to state, but the end result is that the lender either can take ownership of the property or sell it and the borrower’s equitable or statutory right to redeem the property is barred forever.

Approximately 95% of all residential mortgages in the United States are being paid on time.  That means that there are problems with about 5% of mortgage loans.  If mortgagors (e.g., the homeowners / borrowers) do not pay their mortgage loans, they will lose their homes.

Two other options exist for those facing foreclosure.  First, the borrower can offer a deed in lieu of foreclosure.  This means that instead of waiting for the foreclosure process to occur, the lender consents to accepting the borrower’s property interest immediately.  If the value of the property is below the remaining mortgage debt, the lender usually agrees to forgive the difference.

The second option is known as a “short sale.”  In this case, the borrower sells the property for less than the remaining mortgage debt.  The lender’s consent is required and, as in a deed in lieu situation, the lender usually agrees to forgive the excess owed on the debt.

In both options, the homeowners lose their homes.  Yet, this still can be preferable than going through foreclosure.  First, it takes less time, so the home owner who knows there is no way he can keep his home can shorten the process and the pain.  Second, the home owner also will no longer be legally obligated to pay the debt.  Third, if a foreclosure occurs and the home is later sold for less than the amount owed on the debt, some states allow a lender to pursue the unpaid amount.  However, with deed in lieu or a short sale, the lender almost always consents to forgive any remaining debt.

How a Company May Legally Make a Campaign Contribution to a Candidate for Federal Office

Tuesday, October 14th, 2008

The Federal Election Commission is charged with administering and enforcing the financing of federal elections.  The states individually govern financing law for non-federal, state elections.  For a local election, state law and local ordinances govern.

For a federal election, both profit and non-profit corporations, membership organizations, trade associations and labor unions are prohibited from contributing to or spending money on behalf of a candidate.  However, they may establish or contribute to a political action committee (“PAC”).

Two types of PACs exist, separate segregated funds (“SSFs”) and nonconnected committees.  SSFs, which the afore-mentioned types or organizations can form and administer, may only solicit contributions from individuals associated with the sponsoring organization.  They may absorb the costs of establishing and administering the PAC.  By contrast, nonconnected committees are financially independent and must pay for their expenses using the money they raise.  PACs must register with the Federal Election using FEC Form 1 and have reporting requirements regarding their receipts and disbursements.   Downloadable campaign guides for both types of PACs are available on the FEC website.

All political commitees, such as a PACs, that register and file reports with the FEC are considered 527 organizations.  They are organized under Section 527 of the U.S. Tax Code.  However, the concept of a 527 organization is broad and not all 527 organizations are required to file with the FEC.

The federal contribution campaign limits for 2007-08 are as follows:

Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008

Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Congress passed, and President Bush signed on October 3, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, H.R. 1424 (the “Act”).  The purposes of the Act are twofold:  It authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury (the “Secretary”) to restore stability and liquidity to the U.S. financial system and to do so in a manner that protects home values, college funds, retirement accounts and life savings; preserves home ownership and promotes jobs and economic growth; maximizes overall returns to American taxpayers; and provides public accountability to the exercise of that authority.

That’s a tall order.  The key provision involves a Troubled Asset Relief Program (“TARP”).  Under this program, the Secretary, through an office of Financial Security that is to be established, may purchase up to $700 billion in financial institution assets.  The assets must be residential or commercial mortgages or securities, obligations or other instruments relating to such mortgages originated on or before March 14, 2008 or other financial instruments that the Treasury determines necessary.  They may be purchased from all U.S. institutions of all sizes, including the licensed U.S. branches and agencies of foreign banks.  The Treasury can manage and sell the assets or enter into financial transactions regarding any purchased asset.

Some other provisions that sought to increase financial stability include an increase in FDIC deposit insurance from $100,000 per account to $250,000 per account until December 31, 2009 and an authorization for the SEC to suspend mark-to-market accounting.

The Act also included a number of unrelated provisions relating to tax relief, tax cut extensions, an R&D tax credit,  tax incentives, mental health and creating environmentally-friendly jobs, among others.

The House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer, offers a section-by-section summary of the legislation here.