What is Volatility?
What is Volatility?

What Is Volatility and How Does It Affect You?

Volatility is a statistical measure of a security’s or market index’s return dispersion. The more the volatility, the riskier the security is in most circumstances. The standard deviation or variation in returns from the same securities or market index is frequently used to gauge volatilities.

Volatility is frequently connected with large swings in either direction in the financial markets. A “volatile” market, for example, is one in which the stock market rises and falls by more than 1% over a long period of time. When pricing options contracts, the volatility of an asset is an important element.


  • Volatilities is a statistical measure of an asset’s return dispersion. It shows how much an asset’s values fluctuate about the mean price.
  • Beta coefficients, option pricing models, and standard deviations of returns are all examples of approaches to assess volatility.
  • Because the price is believed to be less predictable, volatile assets are frequently regarded riskier than less volatile assets.
  • Volatility is a significant factor in determining option prices.

Understanding the Concept of Volatility

Volatility is a term used to describe the level of risk or uncertainty associated with the extent of variations in a security’s value. A security’s value might possibly be spread out over a greater range of prices if its volatility is higher. This means that the security’s price might swing drastically in either way in a short period of time. Lower volatility indicates that the value of an asset does not vary substantially and is more stable.

Quantifying an asset’s daily returns (percentage change on a daily basis) is one technique to measure its variance. The degree of fluctuation in an asset’s returns is represented by historical volatility, which is based on past prices. This value is given as a percentage and does not have a unit.

While variance represents the dispersion of returns around an asset’s mean in general, volatility is a measure of that variance over a defined time period. As a result, we may report volatility on a daily, weekly, monthly, or annually basis. As a result, thinking about volatility as the annualised standard deviation is helpful.

What is the formula for calculating volatility?

Variance and standard deviation are frequently used to calculate volatility. The square root of the variance is the standard deviation.

Let’s pretend we have monthly stock closing values ranging from $1 to $10 for the sake of simplicity. Month one, for example, is $1, month two is $2, and so on. Follow the five steps below to compute variance.


  1. Calculate the data set’s mean. This is done by adding all of the values together and then dividing by the number of values. We receive $55 if we add $1, $2, $3, and so on all the way up to $10. Because our data collection has ten numbers, this is divided by ten. This results in a $5.50 mean or average price.
  2. Calculate how much each data point differs from the mean. This is referred to as deviation. For instance, if $10 – $5.50 equals $4.50, then $9 – $5.50 equals $3.50. This pattern repeats until the first data value of $1 is reached. Negative numbers are permissible. These computations are often done in a spreadsheet because each number is required.
  3. The deviations should be squared. Negative values will be removed as a result of this.
  4. Combine the squared deviations. This equals 82.5 in our case.
  5. Divide the number of data values by the total of the squared variances (82.5).
  6. The resultant difference in this example is $8.25. The standard deviation is calculated by taking the square root. This comes to $2.87. This is a risk indicator that displays how values are distributed around the average price. It tells traders how far the price could depart from the average.

When prices are picked at random from a normal distribution, about 68 percent of all data values fall within one standard deviation. In our case, 95% of data values will be within two standard deviations (2 x 2.87), and 99.7% of all values will be within three standard deviations (3 x 2.87). The values of $1 to $10 are evenly distributed rather than randomly distributed on a bell curve in this situation. As a result, the projected percentages of 68 percent–95 percent o–99.7% do not hold true. Despite this drawback, traders typically employ standard deviation because price return data sets frequently resemble a normal (bell curve) distribution rather than the example.

Other Measures

The beta is a measure of a stock’s relative volatility compared to the market. When compared to the returns of a comparable benchmark, a beta approximates the overall volatility of a security’s returns (usually the S&P 500 is used). Based on price level, a company with a beta of 1.1 has historically moved 110 percent for every 100 percent change in the benchmark.

A stock with a beta of.9, on the other hand, has historically moved 90% for every 100% move in the underlying index.

The VIX, or Volatility Index, is another indicator of market volatility. The Chicago Board Options Exchange invented the VIX as a tool to evaluate the 30-day projected volatility of the US stock market based on real-time quotation prices of S&P 500 call and put options. 1 It’s essentially a barometer of future wagers made by investors and traders on the direction of the markets or specific stocks. A high VIX rating indicates a dangerous market.

A variable in option pricing calculations that shows how much the underlying asset’s return will change between now and the option’s expiration date. Daily trading activity generate volatility, which is quantified as a percentage coefficient in option pricing algorithms. The coefficient’s value is influenced by how volatility is measured.

Models like Black-Scholes and binomial tree models use volatility to price options contracts. Higher options premiums will result from more volatile underlying assets, since there is a larger chance that the options may expire in the money. Options traders aim to estimate how volatile an asset will be in the future, therefore the market price of an option represents the implied volatility.

Volatility in the Real World

Assume an investor is putting together a retirement portfolio. She’s looking for equities with low volatility and consistent returns because she’ll be retiring in a few years. She has two companies in mind:

Microsoft Corporation (MSFT) has a beta value of.78 as of August 2021, making it significantly less volatile than the S&P 500 index.
Shopify Inc. (SHOP) has a beta value of 1.45, making it substantially more volatile than the S&P 500 index as of August 2021.
Microsoft Corporation would most likely be chosen for the investor’s portfolio since it has lower volatility and more predictable short-term value.

Historical vs. Implied

One of the most essential measures for options traders is implied volatility (IV), also known as predicted volatility. It helps them to predict how volatile the market will be in the future, as the name implies. Traders may also use this notion to determine probability. One thing to keep in mind is that it isn’t science, thus it can’t predict how the market will move in the future.

In contrast to historical Volatilities, implied volatility is derived from the price of an option and indicates future Volatilities predictions. Traders cannot use previous performance as a sign of future performance since it is implied. Instead, they must calculate the market potential of the option.

Historical volatility (HV), also known as statistical volatility, measures price movements across predefined time periods to analyze the variations of underlying securities. Because it is not forward-looking, it is a less popular statistic than implied volatility.

When historical volatility increases, the price of an investment moves more than usual. There is an anticipation that something will or has changed at this moment. On the other side, if historical volatility is decreasing, it suggests that any ambiguity has been removed, and things have returned to normal.

This computation can be based on intraday fluctuations, although it’s more common to compare swings between closing prices. Historical volatility can be calculated in increments ranging from 10 to 180 trading days, depending on the length of the options contract.

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