Contract Specifications

Variance swap conditions are set out on term sheets.


Margins and collateral

Variance swaps are usually margined with an initial amount to be posted as collateral (ex: 3*vega).

Further margin calls will be made during the course of the trade as necessary.

Settlement is calculated at maturity and cash-flows exchanged shortly afterwards.


Disrupted days

The realised variance is calculated from closing prices on observation dates over a specified period.

Observation dates are defined as all those scheduled trading days which are not disrupted.

The occurrence of a disrupted day could potentially work for or against a long variance position.



A. 5% loss is followed by a 6% gain over 2 consecutive trading days.

If first day is declared as disrupted --> only the single combined return of 0.7% will be counted. 

--> decrease realised volatility


B. 5% loss is followed by a 6% loss over 2 consecutive trading days.

If first day is declared as disrupted --> only the compounded 1-day loss of 10.7% will be counted. 

--> increase realised volatility 


Index reconstitution risk

Variance swaps on indices: 

- pay out on the returns of the index  --> NOT on the weighted returns of the basket of current constituents.

- are exposed to reconstitution risk --> may end up with exposure to different set of stock with different volatilies. 


Dividend adjustments

Variance swaps on single names: 

- are typically adjusted for dividends, both special and regular.

- return on ex-dividend date is calculated after adjusting for the dividend. 

- changes in underlying due to dividend payments do not count towards the RV calculation for VS. 


Variance swaps on index: 

- are not usually adjusted for dividends --> payments more spread out --> impact small compared to average daily move. 


Variance swap caps

Variance swaps, especially on single-stocks and sector indices, are usually sold with caps.

Caps are often set at 2.5 times the strike. 


Closing out variance swaps

Investors wanting to realise mark-to-market P&L by closing out a variance swap before expiry generally have 2 choices.

1. Enter into an opposing offsetting contract, potentially with a different counterparty. 

2. Agree with the original counterparty on a level at which to close out the contract. 


In theory, 2. is simpler:

- it removes all collateral obligations

- it frees up capital

- it avoids any technical issues with changes in cap level. 


In practice, it is possible to negotiate bespoke contracts specifically to close out existing positions --> process = novation. 


M&A events

M&A events present particular issues for variance swaps, as an underlying being acquired can effectively cease to exist.

Variance swaps generally follow the rules of the options exchanges. 

Investors should be aware in which exchange the variance swap is based since M&A rules are exchange specific.


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