The stock market hasn’t just been hitting new records. Its rise has been accompanied by a noticeable lack of anxiety among investors. Here is what’s a happened to the VIX—also known as the fear index—a measure of the volatility anticipated by traders in S&P 500 index options. (Investors use options to bet on or to hedge against future movements in the market, so the way they are priced can give you an insight into what investors expect.)
Now market pundits are beginning to freak out a bit about the shortage of people freaking out.
Why? Three words: The Great Moderation. That’s what self-congratulatory policymakers and bankers had started calling the decades leading up to 2007. Inflation was low. GDP had smoothed out. Markets were calm, too. And then—boom!
Josh Brown last week at the Reformed Broker:
On Monday, Mohamed El-Erian on Monday raised the possibility of another “Minsky moment,” last seen in 2008:
The Buttonwood columnist at the The Economist sounded a little less worried:
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One thing about the Great Moderation. Even at the time, people noted that despite big-picture, macroeconomic calm, individuals and households experienced considerable volatility in income, and not much growth. This turned out to be the economy’s Achilles’ heel: Once real-estate prices backed up, it became clear how much many households were depending on debt to stay afloat.
More than five years after the crash, Zillow reports that nearly 19% of homes are still underwater, meaning borrowers owe more than the house is worth. Households’ balance sheets are wobbly. Investors may be calm, but on Main Street the economy continues to feel precarious.