Stock Investors Seem A Little Too Complacent, According To The “Fear Gauge”

Stock Investors Seem A Little Too Complacent, According To The “Fear Gauge”
Stéphane Renevier, CFA

10 months ago1 min

The VIX – a.k.a. the stock market’s “fear gauge” – measures how much volatility (bigger swings up or down) investors expect in the next 30 days, based on S&P 500 option prices. Right now, the VIX is around its long-term average and at the lower bound of the range it’s been in over the past year – despite the extreme macroeconomic uncertainty and crucial central bank decisions we now face.

Sure, technical factors (such as migration toward shorter-term options that aren’t included in the VIX calculation, prudent investor positioning, and lower stock correlation during earnings season) are probably dampening the VIX – and could continue to do so. But the current low reading also might suggest investor complacency.

Look, the market and the Federal Reserve (Fed) are in disagreement over the Fed's next move, with the Fed saying it’s going to maintain higher rates to combat inflation, and the market predicting a rate cut. So, it wouldn’t take much for the Fed to upset the market’s sense of calm when it meets this week and trigger higher volatility.

Now you can’t buy the VIX directly – it’s just an index that measures market volatility and not a tradable asset. But you can buy things that track it – like futures, contract-for-differences (CFDs), or certain ETFs like the iPath Series B S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures ETN (ticker: VXX; expense ratio: 0.89%). While it’s important to note that those tend to be poor long-term investments – they tend to lose their value really fast unless market conditions really deteriorate – they can do their job in the short term. So if you want to hedge your stock exposure or profit from investors’ complacency, this could be an interesting trade to have on this week.



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