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December 25, 2013  Wed 8:22 AM CT

VXX: SEE CHART GET CHAIN FIND STRATEGIES
Markets at new all-time highs into the holidays are a good thing, and having hedges in place certainly makes sense for the inevitable correction. But not all hedges are created equal.

Your hedge shouldn't be wrapped up with a bow and be a surprise when you open it. You should know exactly what you are getting.

So I was surprised when I saw an article this week about buying the iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures Note (VXX) as a hedge without any explanation of what it actually is. Most of you already know this story, but if anyone hasn't, then it is worth the writing.

The VXX is a volatility hedge, which means that in theory it will rise when the market sells off sharply. And it can go up a lot, as a chart will show, but a longer-term look will also show a dismal performance. The exchange-traded note finished yesterday down 2.04 percent to $14.16, a new all-time closing low. But it started in February of 2009 at $6,400 (after two reverse splits).

Some talk mention it as a way to play the low levels of the CBOE Volatility Index, but the VXX  doesn't "own" the VIX. It does own the two nearest-month VIX futures, which are usually higher than the spot volatility index. If all that makes your head spin, you shouldn't own the VXX.

This isn't a bad time to buy some extra hedges as a gift to your portfolio. Just be sure that it doesn't come in a surprise package.
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