Let’s review the recent volatility, or (absence thereof) in the S&P 500. The first chart below features an overlay of the index and the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) since 2007. The current levels of this index are well below the 20 level, a traditional traditionally associated with increased market risk. A recent WSJ article summarizes the usual interpretation of this indicator.
|While a VIX reading above 30 suggests high anxiety and a jump above 40 indicates panic, a reading below 20 indicates a level of comfort.
As the chart above illustrates, the correlation between the S&P 500 and the VIX is inverse but imperfectly so. The lower low in the summer of 2008, when the index nearly dipped to 1200, came with a lower VIX in the upper 20s. More significantly, the unprecedented surges in the VIX above 80 in late 2008 predated the actual index low by over three months.
A key to understanding the VIX is to realize that it can be far more volatile than the index to which it is attached. The next chart inverts the VIX values, which helps us see more clearly the greater degree volatility and the fact that the VIX tends to lead the S&P 500.
The VIX at the current levels suggests that the mood of the market is siesta mode — quite different from this time last year. In fact, the 15.28 of yesterday’s close is a level that the index hasn’t consistently held since the early summer of 2007. Here is a longer-term look at the S&P 500 and VIX that gives us a better sense of how this indicator has behaved.
The question, of course, is how long this siesta will last.
Note: For anyone needing a VIX refresher, Investopedia provides a handy overview:
VIX: The ticker symbol for the Chicago Board Options Exchange (CBOE) Volatility Index, which shows the market’s expectation of 30-day volatility. It is constructed using the implied volatilities of a wide range of S&P 500 index options. This volatility is meant to be forward looking and is calculated from both calls and puts. The VIX is a widely used measure of market risk and is often referred to as the “investor fear gauge”…. VIX values greater than 30 are generally associated with a large amount of volatility as a result of investor fear or uncertainty, while values below 20 generally correspond to less stressful, even complacent, times in the markets. [rate]
Images: Flickr (licence attribution)
About The Author
My original dshort.com website was launched in February 2005 using a domain name based on my real name, Doug Short. I’m a formerly retired first wave boomer with a Ph.D. in English from Duke. Now my website has been acquired byAdvisor Perspectives, where I have been appointed the Vice President of Research.
My first career was a faculty position at North Carolina State University, where I achieved the rank of Full Professor in 1983. During the early ’80s I got hooked on academic uses of microcomputers for research and instruction. In 1983, I co-directed the Sixth International Conference on Computers and the Humanities. An IBM executive who attended the conference made me a job offer I couldn’t refuse.
Thus began my new career as a Higher Education Consultant for IBM — an ambassador for Information Technology to major universities around the country. After 12 years with Big Blue, I grew tired of the constant travel and left for a series of IT management positions in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. I concluded my IT career managing the group responsible for email and research databases at GlaxoSmithKline until my retirement in 2006.
Contrary to what many visitors assume based on my last name, I’m not a bearish short seller. It’s true that some of my content has been a bit pessimistic in recent years. But I believe this is a result of economic realities and not a personal bias. For the record, my efforts to educate others about bear markets date from November 2007, as this Motley Fool article attests.