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Historical vs. Implied Volatility

Instructor: David Bartosiak

Dave draws off his years of experience as a Financial Advisor and Analyst to teach others all about finance and the investing world.

Historical and implied volatility are two important components of price volatility. Historical volatility is calculated by looking at the historical pricing of a security over a specified period of time, while implied volatility attempts to predict how volatile a security will be in the future.

Two Important Types of Price Volatility

When trading options, there are two types of price volatility traders need to understand. The two types are historical volatility and implied volatility. As the name implies, historical volatility measures how volatile a stock has been in the past. Since volatility is a fancy way of saying the range of a stock, measuring the historical volatility of a stock takes a little bit of Statistics 101 to figure out.

The easiest way to measure historical volatility is first to measure the standard deviation over a set period of time for the stock you are looking at. Then you divide the stock price by the standard deviation to get the historical volatility expressed as a percentage. Standard deviation is a statistical calculation that indicates the extent of deviation within a group or a data set. In this case, it's a great way to gauge how much a stock bounces around different values.

Graphical representation of standard deviation on a normal curve

Think of a bag of marbles on a gym floor. If you gently roll out the marbles, they'll stay within a small area. In terms of deviation from the average location, this would have a small standard deviation. If you came in and spiked the open bag of marbles on the ground, the marbles would bounce all over the place and have a huge standard deviation. You can think of the locations all over the floor as a stock's closing prices over several days. If the stock trades all over the place, it will have a higher standard deviation of closing prices and therefore a high measure of historical volatility.

Implied Volatility

Implied volatility is a forward-looking measure of volatility. Rather than look at the movement a stock has had in the past, implied volatility attempts to quantify how much it will move in the future. This becomes especially relevant when trying to gauge the price of an option. Thinking back to our marble metaphor, implied volatility would be guessing how far apart the next bag of marbles would get spread across the gym floor.

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