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Monday, June 29, 2009 1:05 PM

Complacency as Measured by VIX Returns to Wall Street

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Bloomberg is reporting VIX Drops to Lowest Level Since Lehman’s Collapse as Fear Ebbs.

The benchmark index for U.S. stock options fell below its closing level from the day before Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc.’s September collapse as stocks rallied and investors paid less to hedge against equity losses.

The VIX, as the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index is known, lost 1.1 percent to 25.65 at 11:54 a.m. in New York. The index measures the cost of using options as insurance against declines in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, which added 0.9 percent.

“Fear of the doomsday scenario has definitely subsided,” Jeremy Wien, a VIX options trader at Societe Generale SA in New York, said before the index slipped below its Sept. 12 close of 25.66.

Before today, the VIX averaged 20.18 in its history stretching back to the start of 1990. The index peaked at 80.86 in November and dipped below 30 in May for the first time in eight months. It reached an intraday record of 89.53 on Oct. 24.

The volatility benchmark, known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge” because it almost always increases as stocks fall, reflects expectations for price swings for the next 30 days and is calculated from S&P 500 options that are one or two months from expiration.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke has made unprecedented use of the central bank’s powers as the lender of last resort. He kept banks liquid by accepting bonds they can’t trade as collateral for Treasuries and bailed out the nation’s biggest insurer, American International Group Inc.

The S&P 500’s swings were the biggest in the benchmark’s 80-year history last year as it plunged 38 percent, the most since 1937. There were 18 moves of more than 5 percent after Sept. 29. That was more than half of the 35 swings of that size that have occurred from 1955 through 2008, according Howard Silverblatt, the senior index analyst at S&P in New York.
Giving Bernanke or the Fed any credit for this is preposterous. The Fed helped create this mess. For a complete trashing of Bernanke please see Bernanke is a Total Failure Unsuited for Role as Fed Chairman.

Moreover, we have still not felt the repercussions of the Fed's actions nor does the Fed have an exit strategy for what it has done. Premature celebration for the Fed's policies is certainly unwarranted. The payback period may last a decade or more.

$VIX Daily

click on chart for sharper image

Looking forward, consumer spending attitudes have changed for good (and consumer spending is 70% of the economy), there is virtually no chance for a V shaped recovery, housing is going to remain in the doldrums (at best) , lending standards have tightened dramatically, the jobs picture is going to be bleak for a long time, bank leverage will not come back to the same extent for decades, if ever, and Peak Earnings are in.

In light of the above, the stock market is priced for perfection.

New lows might be coming whether there is another outright panic or not as measured by the VIX. Indeed that is what happened in March, with the S&P 500 making a new low although the VIX was nowhere near the October and November 2008 spikes.

Mike "Mish" Shedlock
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