By Bryan Rich
January 30, 2017, 4:00pm EST Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr
The Trump agenda continues to dominate the market focus as we entered the second week of Trumponomics.
To this point the market focus has been on the pro-growth agenda. With that, stocks have been higher, yields have been higher, the dollar has been higher, and global commodities have been broadly rising. Meanwhile, gold (the fear trade) has been falling and the VIX has been falling, toward ultra-low levels. The VIX, like gold, is a good market indicator of uncertainty and/or fear.
Let’s talk about the VIX…
The VIX measures the implied volatility of options on the S&P 500. This is a key component in the price investors pay for downside protection on their portfolios.
So what is implied volatility? Implied volatility measures both actual volatility and the options market maker community’s expectations (or perception of certainty) about future volatility. When market makers feel confident about the stability in markets, implied vol is lower, which makes the price of options cheaper. When they aren’t confident in stability, implied vol goes up, which makes the price of an option go up. To compensate those that are taking the other side of your trade, for the lack of predictability, you pay a premium.
With that in mind, on Friday, the VIX traded to the lowest levels since the days before the failure of Lehman Brothers. That indicates that the market had (or has) become a believer that pro-growth policies, combined with ultra-easy central bank policies have created a buffer against the downside in stocks. But that perception of downside risk is changing today, with the more vocal uprising against Trump social policies. You can see the spike (in the far right of the chart) today…
So as big money managers were closing the week last Friday, looking at Dow 20,000+ and a VIX sliding toward levels not too far from pre-crisis levels, buying downside protection was dirt cheap. This morning, they’re paying quite a bit more for that protection.
With that said, this pop in the VIX and the Dow trading off by more than 100 points today gets a lot of attention. But is there justification to think that market turbulence will begin to reflect the turbulence and division in public opinion toward Trump policies? Just gauging the extent of the market reaction from the VIX today, it’s unlikely. The chart below is the longer term view of the VIX.
My observations: The VIX has had a small bounce from very, very low levels. On an absolute basis, vol is still very cheap. When there is real fear in the air, real uncertainty about the future, you can see from the spikes in the longer term chart above, the premium for the unknown gets priced in quickly and aggressively. Given that there has been virtually no risk premium priced into the market for any falter in the Trump Presidency, or the execution of Trump policies, the moves today have been very modest. And gold (as I write) is barely changed on the day.
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