The forex market continues to make some folks nervous. While there are certainly reasons to be cautious when playing exchange rates, a considerable amount of the nervousness of the average person on the street comes from misinformation. Most notably, they all too often think of the forex market as being highly volatile. I addressed this issue before in Looking at Volatility Across Markets, but I think it’s worth revisiting.
I’ve collected 5 years of weekly values for a number of markets to look at just how volatile they are. Let me first look at the US Dollar Index. Between July 2007 and July 2012 the average weekly range for the USD Index was just 2%. I derived that by taking the distance between each week’s high and low and dividing it by the midpoint for that week [( High – Low)/( (High+Low)/2) ]. At the same time, the standard deviation of weekly closing prices (which gives us an idea of how choppy the market is) was only 4.9% (relative to the average close for the study period).
As you will see, that’s not a lot of volatility.
Let’s start by comparing the USD Index values to those from the major US stock indices.
DJIA: 4.0% average weekly range, 15.0% standard deviation
S&P 500: 4.4% average weekly range, 16.0% standard deviation
NASDAQ 100: 4.7% average weekly range, 20.2% standard deviation
Russell 2000: 5.6% average weekly range, 17.3% standard deviation
As you can see, the major stock indices show considerably more volatility than does the USD Index.
How about individual stocks?
JPM: 9.4% average weekly range, 15.0% standard deviation
IBM: 4.8% average weekly range, 24.6% standard deviation
GE: 7.4% average weekly range, 39.9% standard deviation
XOM: 5.1% average weekly range, 12.0% standard deviation
KO: 4.0% average weekly range, 15.3% standard deviation
AAPL: 7.2% average weekly range, 53.5% standard deviation
KO: 6.2% average weekly range, 18.0% standard deviation
No real surprise to see that individual stocks are pretty volatile by comparison.
Looking at commodities:
CRB Index: 3.9% average weekly range, 18.2% standard deviation
Gold: 4.6% average weekly range, 28.1% standard deviation
Crude Oil: 8.4% average weekly range, 24.2% standard deviation
Here again we see markets with a great deal more volatility than the USD Index. The one place where there is something of a contest is the bond market. The long-date Treasury note/bond ETF is TLT. Looking at its weekly figures I come up with a 3.2% average range and 10.6% standard deviation. That’s considerably less volatility than the other markets and securities shown above, but still not at low as what we have seen the last five years in the USD Index. We would likely have to move down to short-term Treasury securities (like 2yr Notes and T-Bills) to find lower values.
The point of all this is that anyone avoiding the currency market because of the perception that it’s super volatile is operating on a false belief. The figures just don’t back that up.
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