Reasons behind huge spike in VIX

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Yesterday's surge in the CBOE Volatility Index was one of its largest, but in some ways was no great surprise.

The VIX was up 34 percent at the end of the day, finishing at 18.99. That makes it the 11th-largest move in the history of the VIX.

The biggest was in February 2007 and, interestingly, was the only other example in recent times to come with the VIX starting below 20. It jumped from 11 to above 18 that day, something I remember pretty well because I was long VIX calls at the time.

But how could anyone have anticipated yesterday's spike? At least part of the answer may lie in my " Options Academy " column from Feb. 13 , which outlined a scenario that could cause such a large move:

"This would happen if the hedge funds, which are largely playing catch-up already, are forced to buy VIX futures to cover their shorts. And the market markets too would be forced to buy VIX futures to cover their exposure to all the short VIX calls they carry. It could get ugly quickly."

I believed then that the looming sequestration would be a potential catalyst for much higher volatility (and still believe that now). But as we have seen, there are many things that can send bulls to the exits and spur traders to buy volatility regardless of cost.

So the next time that markets are at or near highs while the VIX is unusually low, it might be worth remembering just how volatile volatility can be. 

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