In my opinion, the launch of a new Option Writing category by Morningstar this week has tremendous potential to boost long-term interest in and acceptance of options-based strategies by portfolio managers, financial advisers, and consultants.

On April 29, 2016, Morningstar is adding a new Option Writing category to its U.S Retail Category system, and the Category Index is the CBOE S&P 500 BuyWrite Index (BXM).


Over the past decade I have spoken to numerous representatives of different mutual funds that used options, and the top group of complaints I heard from these reps involved the Morningstar categories – these reps told me that the Morningstar categories were very important and influential, but the categories applied to their options-based fund (such as “Long-Short” or “Large Blend”) could be updated to be more accurately descriptive. Some of these representatives said that (1) they individually met with Morningstar to discuss the category applied to their fund, (2) they were interested in a the possibility of new Options category, and (3) they asked if CBOE could discuss the category topic with Morningstar. In 2014 I had a two-hour meeting with key Morningstar reps in which (1) I gave them an overview of performance of options-based benchmark indexes (such as the BXM Index) and some options-based mutual funds, (2) Morningstar reps told me that potential new Morningstar categories have several requirements, including the fact that there should be enough constituents to form the basis for reasonable peer group comparisons (e.g., a dozen funds generally would not be enough to generate a new category), and (3) I told Morningstar reps that in the future I would provide more information on many dozens of options-based funds. In early 2015 I was pleased to send to Morningstar a new study by Keith Black and Ed Szado that provided a list of 119 ’40 Act funds that used options (see more info on the study below).


Morningstar states that their categories “help investors identify the top-performing funds, assess potential risk, and build well-diversified portfolios.” In the U.S., Morningstar supports 122 categories, which map into nine category groups (U.S. equity, sector equity, allocation, international equity, alternative, commodities, taxable bond, municipal bond, and money market). The category group indexes and category indexes listed with each category are used in Morningstar’s tools and reports to show performance relative to a benchmark.

Two of the key Alternative categories that could be of interest to people who invest in options or volatility products are:

Option Writing (introduced on April 29, 2016)

Option writing funds aim to generate a significant portion of their returns from the collection of premiums on options contracts sold. This category includes covered call strategies, put writing strategies, as well as options strategies that target returns primarily from contract premiums. In addition, option writing funds may seek to generate a portion of their returns, either indirectly or directly, from the volatility risk premium associated with options trading strategies.

  • Category Group Index: S&P 500 TR USD
  • Category Index: CBOE S&P 500 BuyWrite BXM
  • Morningstar Index: Morningstar US Market TR USD

Volatility (introduced on April 30, 2011)    

Volatility strategies trade volatility as an asset class. Directional volatility strategies aim to profit from the trend in the implied volatility embedded in derivatives referencing other asset classes. Volatility arbitrage seeks to profit from the implied volatility discrepancies between related securities.

  • Category Group Index: S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures TR USD
  • Category Index: S&P 500 VIX Short Term Futures TR USD
  • Morningstar Index: Morningstar Cash TR USD


Morningstar’s Category Index for the new Option Writing category is the CBOE S&P 500 BuyWrite Index (BXM). While there are some people who still wonder if use of options usually adds to volatility, see the chart below and note that since mid-1986 the BXM Index had less volatility than the Citigroup Treasury Bond, S&P 500, Russell 2000, MSCI EAFE, and S&P GSCI (commodity) indexes.



In 2015 Keith Black and Edward Szado published a paper “Performance Analysis of Options-Based Equity Mutual Funds, CEFs, and ETFs.” You can visit to click on different versions of the paper -- Slide Presentation (30-page PDF), Highlights (4-page PDF), and Paper (28-page PDF).

The 2015 paper found that the number of ’40 Act funds (including mutual funds, ETFs and closed-end funds (CEFs)) that used options grew from 10 in the year 2000 to 119 funds in 2014, and the paper provides a list of the names and ticker symbols for all 119 funds.


In the 15-year line chart graph in the 2015 Black/Szado study, the black line (representing the returns of the U.S.-equity-focused options-based funds as a group) and the green line (representing the CBOE BXM Index) both tracked each other pretty closely. At the end of the end of the 15-year period, both the options-based funds and the S&P 500 rose 86%, the BXM Index was up 82%, and the MSCI EAFE Index (in US$) rose 46%. All these returns are pre-tax, and past performance is not predictive of future returns.

Line chart

In the bar chart by Black & Szado showing annualized standard deviations, the Options-Based Funds (represented by the black bar) had lower volatility than the S&P GSCI, MSCI EAFE. S&P 500, BXM, and Citigroup 30-Year Treasury Bond indexes.



I am looking forward to learning more about which funds will be included in the new Option Writing category, and I will be interested to see if the most funds in the new Option Writing category have less volatility than most funds in Morningstar’s domestic and global stock categories.

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