The VIX, the CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index, gained 11% today to close at 26.03.
But the index, which measures how much investors and traders are wiling to pay in the options market to hedge risk on the Standard & Poor’s 500 index of stocks looking out over the next couple of months, is still down from 40.28 on October 28. And from 35.55 on November 3 and 29.57 on November 4. (A higher reading on the VIX indicted more fear among investors and traders. Which is why the VIX is often called “the fear index.”
Even with today’s move higher, the index is below the 200-day moving average at 31.94 and below the 50-day moving average at 28.60 and below the 20-day moving average at 30.71.
This all adds up to an extraordinary degree of complacency given what investors and traders can see in the real world.
On Wednesday, for example, the United States recorded a new record daily high of 145,835 new coronavirus infections. The rate of positivity is on the rise in just about every state, even those that had slowed the spread of the virus earlier this year. States are moving very gingerly toward restricting economic activity to slow the spread of the virus, but the degree of economic restrictions seems to be rising and that will mean more damage to the national economy in the last quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of 2021. The Federal government has completely checked out of any effort to slow the spread of the virus, putting its faith instead, apparently, in the arrival of a coronavirus vaccine (with mid-2021 as the date for likely mass deployment) or the fringe science of herd immunity (if enough people get sick, that will slow the spread of the virus.) Every remaining Federal program to provide support to American families or businesses will have expired by the end of 2020 and Congress looks to be unable to agree on a new stimulus package. And, like a cherry on top of a sundae of risk, the closing days of the Trump administration could bring major disruptions in relations with China or Iran.
And in this world, the VIX is down 35.4% from its level on October 28, less than a month ago?
The VIX isn’t a perfect measure of the market’s attitude toward risk, certainly. Many investors and traders use other tools to hedge risk than options and futures on the S&P 500 and those bets aren’t picked up by the index.
But still, even by this imperfect measure, this is an extraordinary degree of complacency in a market facing these risk factors.
It’s been hard maintaining my positions in Puts and in an inverse Russell 2000 ETF in the last week. I took a real beating on Monday and Tuesday. But I haven’t reduced any of these positions and, in my personal account I added to those hedges in the early part of this week.