I have received a number of questions and comments in which readers have expressed surprise about the relative complacency in the VIX (currently at 23.51 as I type this) while the DJIA is in the process of making a new low for the year.
One important and often overlooked element of a VIX spike is surprise. Similar to Nassim Taleb’s idea that a black swan cannot be anticipated, if all of the Bob Janjuah’s of the world predict an impending market crash, the media runs with the story, and investors rush out to snap up portfolio protection…then it becomes much less likely that people will panic and the market will crash if stocks start to turn down. Put another way, where there is a safety net, there is a lot less fear.
Another point worth noting is that the DJIA is not representative of the broader markets, as reiterated by Adam at Daily Options Report today in Lookout Below? The Russell 2000 and NASDAQ-100 indices, for instance, are showing considerably more resiliency in the recent downtrend.
Turning to the VIX:SDS ratio, which I unveiled last August in Fear vs. Volatility (follow the links for some background and explanatory notes), I use this indicator to evaluate the amount of fear and complacency in the market relative to market movements. The size and direction of the gap between the current ratio and the 100 day SMA or the 10 day SMA and the 100 day SMA provide some useful information about the incremental sentiment involved in market moves.
At the moment, it looks as if the VIX:SDS ratio is showing a small amount of complacency, which I find a little unusual for the current market environment, but not particularly noteworthy. Of course, if investors see the monster approaching and prepare themselves accordingly, it is a good bet that the monster will never quite make it close enough to terrify the markets.