A while back, motivated by persistent misinformation being presented in the media, I did a quick study of volatility in various markets. It was something I repeated here last year using weekly rather than daily data. Markets have had lots of different things happening recently, so I decided to re-run the daily data study, this time using 5 years of data rather than just the 1 year I went with the first time around. Also, rather than showing the figures in tabular format, I’ve decided to make things more visual and put the results in a pair of charts.
Here is the first one which compares four exchange rates, four major US stock indices, eight big cap common stocks, four major commodities, and four key US interest rate instruments (using futures for the latter two groups). It looks at volatility from the perspective of the standard deviation of daily % returns. This basically gives us an idea of how much of a change we see in each market on a given day.
The results are consistent which my prior analysis. The interest rate and exchange rate markets are noticeably lower in volatility than commodities, stocks, and stock indices. The major forex pairs move roughly about the same amount as longer maturity fixed income instruments like T-Bonds (using a price basis rather than an interest rate basis).
The second chart uses average daily ranges as the comparison point. The ranges are calculated as (High – Low)/Prior Day’s Close. This allows us to look at percentages for all markets so we’re comparing apples to apples.
There’s a bit of shuffling around in the order in which the markets rank when looking at ranges rather than returns, but generally the pattern is the same. Interest rate and exchange rate markets fall on the low end of the scale while individual stocks and commodities are on the high end.
The first reason for showing these images to you is so the next time someone tells you how risky the forex market is you can show them the comparison and ask them if they want to reconsider.
The other reason I bring this subject up is to provide a better understanding of volatility across markets , which factors into things like bid/ask spreads, margin requirements, and the like. This should help in your investment asset allocation process – or at least to have some insight into how different markets move if you’re just focusing on only one or two. Of course once you start applying leverage you can create a situation where any market can result in a very volatile account equity line.