Stocks are in a phase of apparent recovery after a tariff-sparked selloff threatened to put a lasting end to the bull run for U.S. equity markets.
The downdraft – which commenced on the heels of fresh presidential threats for increased tariffs, promising reinvigorated U.S.-China trade aggressions – has raised as many questions about the resiliency of the uptrend for stocks, as has the ability of a closely watched volatility gauge to pivot from flashing red to signaling relative calm.
The Cboe Volatility Index touched an intraday high at 23.38 on May 9, representing a more than 80% surge from its comparatively recent intraday nadir of 12.80 put in on May 3, according to FactSet data.
However, the gauge, which maintains a historical average of between 19 and 20, is currently hanging around 15.50, as of Thursday trade.
In other words, rather than continuing to surge, the index – known by its ticker, VIX – has receded, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq Composite Index rebounding from their recent declines.
JPMorgan Chase & Co. analysts Marko Kolanovic and Bram Kaplan, in a recent note, have some theories as to why the VIX, which reflects S&P 500 options bets for the coming 30 days, has seen relatively muted action amid the geopolitical turmoil.
The analysts said that since May 5, when President Donald Trump issued a tweet signaling a reignition of Sino-American trade tensions, investors pulled over $300 million from unlevered long VIX products, and over $450 million from levered products, including the ProShares Ultra VIX Short-Term Futures ETF.
The analysts explain the result of those moves this way: “Unwinding of this exposure has kept in check the increase in the VIX and prevented the type of VIX increase we saw in February and October last year.”
The JPMorgan strategists say positioning, or bets on VIX, remain subdued and said that they are expecting stocks to see similarly muted action, barring any new Twitter flare-ups from Trump. “This is consistent with our last report, where we pointed out that pullbacks are likely to be less severe compared to those last year,” the analysts said.