Low-Volatility Settles In – For Now

Negative interest rates. Slow economic growth. The possibility of “Brexit.” If equity investors are worried about these and other concerns, they’re doing a good job putting on their poker face.

Indeed, the most-watched benchmark for gauging anticipated market volatility—the CBOE Volatility Index, or VIX—suggests investors aren’t terribly anxious or uncertain about the future.

Consider this: After spiking early in the year, the VIX began a fairly steady decline—falling to its 2016 low back in April. Since then, the so-called “investor fear index” has risen a bit. But, as seen in the chart below, it’s typically ranged between 13 and 16 over the past few months—significantly lower than its historical average of around 20. VIX Index

Interestingly, this low volatility environment persisted during first-quarter earnings season, when a number of individual stocks (such as Apple) and sectors (such as retailers) made headlines by posting disappointing results and were subsequently punished by investors.

But as evidenced by the VIX during that time, this “stock-level” volatility never carried over to the broader market—or to Horizon’s investment portfolios. In our Risk Assist and Real Spend portfolios, for example, portfolio hedging levels have remained consistent in recent weeks.

As such, the VIX served as a nice “reality check” and a reminder of the importance of focusing on the facts: The market may have felt volatile to some investors during earnings season, but the data shows that wasn’t the case. Meanwhile, the S&P 500 is up 1.4% during the past five weeks.

That said, investors may start reacting more strongly to global developments in the coming weeks now that earnings season is over. It is possible that overall market volatility could rise if about macro-level developments in the global economy boost investors’ anxiety levels. As always, we will remain vigilant as we assess current market conditions and position the portfolios to reflect our analysis.


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