Monday, January 14, 2008

VWSI at Zero as VIX Meanders

There is probably a better word out there to describe the recent lack of action in the VIX, but I’m going to stick with ‘meander’ for now. After weekly changes of 9% or more in one direction or the other for 11 out of the past 12 weeks, the VIX dropped a mere 0.26 (1.1%) last week to end the week at 23.68. Perhaps more important, in spite of those 12 relatively volatile weeks, last week’s close leaves the VIX just 0.10 above the 50 day SMA, indicating that this has been a lot of running hard simply to stay in the same place.

The VIX Weekly Sentiment Indicator (VWSI) is as unimpressed by the recent market downturn as the VIX, currently registering a zero, which indicates no bias toward increasing volatility.

As is my weekly custom, for a survey of the best in current thinking about the markets, Barry Ritholtz at The Big Picture sums up the week that was and the week that will be in his Mid January Linkfest: Review / Preview.

Looking forward, I am still puzzling over the implications of the recent lackluster VIX. Three possible conclusions immediately jump out at me:

  1. the markets have a lot longer to fall and won’t bottom until we have a meaningful VIX spike (I consider this possible, but certainly not a fait accompli, as I spelled out in Can the Markets Bottom Without a VIX Spike?);

  2. investors are not particularly fearful at the moment because after six months of hearing about an upcoming disaster have bought all the puts they want and/or are getting desensitized to additional bad news;

  3. the VIX no longer has the predictive value it once had, due in part to the flourishing of double inverse ETFs like the QID and other increasingly popular instruments for the bearishly inclined.

I will be evaluating all three possibilities going forward and will update my thinking here as it evolves.

(Note that in the above temperature gauge, the "bullish" and "bearish" labels apply to the VIX, not to the broader markets, which are usually negatively correlated with the VIX.)

Wine pairing: For a VWSI of zero, I began 2007 by recommending some Rhone blends and later expanded the category to include any expensive blend. Over the course of the year, my two favorite inexpensive blends turned out to be the $8 Oakley Five Reds (the 2003 vintage is a blend of 41% syrah, 27% zinfandel, 22% petite sirah, 10% alicante bouschet, and 1% mourvedre from Cline Cellars); and the 2005 vintage of The Hermit Crab from D’Arenberg, a delicious $13 blend of 70% viognier and 30% marsanne.

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