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Understanding stock market volatility: Key concepts

Anyone who follows the stock market knows that some days market indexes and stock prices move up and other days they move down. This phenomenon is known as volatility.

But what exactly does volatility mean, and why is it important? Moreover, how is it calculated? To dive deeper into these questions and grasp the essence of volatility in the financial markets, continue reading this blog.

What is volatility?

Volatility captures the rate at which stock prices or market indexes fluctuate over time. It’s a key measure of risk, showing how much and how quickly values can change. In essence, volatility reflects the degree of unpredictability or stability in the price of a security.

High volatility indicates more risk because it allows prices to fluctuate significantly in a short period. Conversely, low volatility indicates minor price changes, implying lower risk. 

Types of volatility

Stock market volatility manifests in two primary forms:

  • Historical volatility reflects the degree of price fluctuation a security has experienced over a specific past period. It’s calculated based on actual price changes, serving as a measure of how wildly or gently a security’s price has moved historically. This type of volatility helps in understanding a security’s past behaviour but does not necessarily predict future movements.
  • Implied volatility provides a prospective viewpoint by expressing the market’s forecast of future price fluctuations. It’s derived from the pricing of options on the security, embodying the market’s consensus on future volatility. Unlike historical volatility, implied volatility is more about anticipation and expectations, making it particularly relevant for options traders who base their strategies on future price movements.

Measuring volatility

When calculating volatility, two key elements are considered:

  • Variance: Typically, the volatility calculation utilises the closing price of the asset, which is the last price at which the asset was traded when the market closed, with 3:30 PM being the standard closing time for markets in India. It’s calculated as the average squared deviation from the asset’s mean price, reflecting how much the price deviates from its average.
  • Time period: Understanding the future uncertainty of an asset’s performance requires considering the time aspect as well. 

Calculating volatility

Volatility reflects how much a security’s price fluctuates over time. It’s essentially the standard deviation of its historical prices. 


To calculate it, we gather past prices, find their average, and then measure how much each price deviates from that average.  Squaring these deviations helps emphasise larger price swings. 

Finally, we total these squared deviations, divide by the number of prices to get the variance, and take the square root to arrive at the standard deviation, which represents volatility.


  1. Consider the closing prices of XYZ Ltd over five days:
  • Day 1: ₹150
  • Day 2: ₹155
  • Day 3: ₹148
  • Day 4: ₹153
  • Day 5: ₹157
  1. First, find the average closing price over the period.

Mean Price = (₹150 + ₹155 + ₹148 + ₹153 + ₹157) / 5 = ₹152.6

  1. Calculate how much each day’s price deviates from the mean price.
Day 1₹150₹152.60-2.6
Day 2₹155₹152.602.4
Day 3₹148₹152.60-4.6
Day 4₹153₹152.600.4
Day 5₹157₹152.604.4
  1. Square each deviation to eliminate negative values.
DeviationDeviation squared
  1. Add the squared deviations and divide by the number of days.

Variance = (6.76 + 5.76 + 21.16 + 0.16 + 19.36) / 5 = 10.64

  1. Take the square root of the variance.

Standard Deviation = √10.64 = 3.26

Therefore, the volatility of XYZ Ltd stock over these five days is 3.26. This figure indicates the degree to which the stock price fluctuated around the average price during this period.

Beta is also a measure of relative volatility, indicating how a stock’s price movement compares to a market index. A beta value greater than one indicates that a stock is more volatile than the market. A beta of 1.3, for instance, indicates that a stock is 30% more volatile than the benchmark index.

Importance of stock market volatility

  • Investment decisions: Investors and traders use volatility to make informed decisions. High volatility might deter conservative investors but attract those looking for high returns in a short period. Conversely, low volatility attracts investors seeking stability.
  • Strategic opportunities: Volatility provides opportunities for strategic trading. Investors are able to purchase low and sell high in volatile markets by identifying entry and exit points for their assets. It provides the opportunity to modify portfolios in response to market conditions, which may result in higher results.
  • Market sentiment indicator: Investor anxiety and uncertainty are measured by volatility indices, such as the India VIX, which serve as barometers of market sentiment. High values suggest anticipation of significant market movements, guiding investors about the general market mood.
  • Long-term benefits: For long-term investors, volatility can offer beneficial entry points. Buying during dips or selling during peaks can lower the average cost per share over time, enhancing portfolio performance when markets rebound.


A key feature of the financial markets is volatility, which represents both opportunity and risk. Investors who can comprehend and deal with volatility risk well will be in a better position to make well-informed decisions, manage their portfolios strategically, and maybe profit from market fluctuations in the long run.


What is volatility in money market?

Volatility in the money market refers to the fluctuations in interest rates and the prices of short-term financial instruments, such as Treasury bills and commercial paper. It is influenced by factors like changes in monetary policy, economic data, and market sentiment. High volatility means interest rates and security prices change rapidly, affecting liquidity and investment returns.

What volatility is high?

High volatility is a term used to describe sudden, large swings in a security’s price over a brief period. Given the possibility of abrupt fluctuations in value and the unpredictability of the scenario, it indicates a greater risk environment. While high volatility can present more opportunities for profitable trading, it also increases the danger of losing money. 

What is good volatility for a stock?

A stock’s level of volatility is determined by the investor’s risk tolerance and strategy. Higher volatility can present more opportunities for profit through rapid market swings for aggressive traders seeking short-term gains. Long-term investors, on the other hand, might favour low volatility since it denotes steady growth and less risk. In essence,  “good” volatility aligns with one’s investment goals.

How is stock market volatility calculated?

There are three ways to gauge stock market volatility: standard deviation, beta, and the VIX index. The standard deviation provides a clear indicator of volatility by calculating the spread of a stock’s returns around its mean. Beta compares the stock’s volatility relative to the overall market, with values above 1 indicating higher volatility. The volatility expectations for the equities are reflected in the VIX index, also referred to as the “fear gauge” of the market; higher levels indicate higher market volatility.

Is market volatility a risk?

Yes, market volatility represents a form of risk as it indicates fluctuations in asset prices within short periods. Increased price fluctuations are indicative of high volatility, which raises the unpredictability of investment results. It implies the possibility of both quick profits and unexpected losses for investors. While volatility can offer profit opportunities, it also poses a challenge for those seeking stable, predictable returns, making effective risk management strategies essential in volatile markets.

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