The rapidly changing fortunes of financial institutions and energy stocks have been widely chronicled – so much so that there is no need to repeat the details here.
The implications of the shift away from financials and toward energy touch upon several issues that I have not yet seen addressed in the media. One of the obvious ones is the composition of various stock indices. In the S&P 500 index (SPX), for instance, just from 2007 to the present, financials have dropped from 22% of the index to 14% of the index, while energy stocks have surged from 10% to 16% of the index. The change is particularly important when one considers that financials (XLF) have historically been highly correlated to the SPX (0.91 over the course of the past year), while the energy sector (XLE) has typically had the lowest correlation to the SPX (-0.28 for the past year).
Consider that in the past year, the index has been tilting away from financials and toward energy stocks, essentially swapping a positive 0.91 correlation for a negative 0.28 correlation. Given that the VIX is based on SPX options, there can be little wonder why the VIX has been moving more lethargically as of late: an increasingly dominant sector – the energy group – is pulling in the opposite direction of the other sectors. The result? Sector gridlock is dampening the movements of the SPX and of SPX derivatives, like the VIX.
[Hat tip to Adam at Daily Options Report and Don at Don Fishback's Market Update for jump starting some of my thinking on this subject.]