Wednesday, 25 Nov 2020

VIX 'fear gauge' posts biggest weekly drop since April as U.S. election fears dissipate

FILE PHOTO: A sign for Wall Street is seen with a giant American flag in the background across from the New York Stock Exchange November 5, 2012. REUTERS/Chip East

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Investors are growing less worried about huge gyrations in U.S. stocks now that Election Day has passed.

The Cboe Volatility Index .VIX, known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” fell on Friday for the fifth straight day to end at 24.86, its lowest closing level since Aug. 28. This week, the VIX plummeted more than 13 points, its largest weekly decline since early April.

Prices for VIX futures also dropped broadly over the past week.

“Investors are continuing to get more comfortable with the political setup,” though results for the U.S. presidential election and several congressional races remained unclear, said Christopher Murphy, co-head of derivatives strategy at Susquehanna Financial Group.

Still, the VIX remains well above its long-term average of 20, and concerns tied to U.S. politics and the coronavirus pandemic could keep volatility expectations steady, analysts say.

Several market analysts have said Wall Street hopes a divided Congress would enable the Senate’s Republican majority to block moves to hike taxes or expand healthcare coverage if Democrat Joe Biden becomes president. Senate control could hinge on two undecided races in Georgia.

While U.S. stocks did not appear very unsettled by those races on Friday, Murphy said some investors have recently been purchasing options targeting a January time frame, perhaps in anticipation of the Georgia runoffs. The term structure for VIX futures now indicates that investors see the greatest potential for market swings in the period between mid-December to mid-February.

Concerns about a rise in COVID-19 cases after the December holiday season could also lift volatility expectations for that period, said Amy Wu Silverman, equity derivatives strategist at RBC Capital Markets.

Even so, overall “things are mellowing out from a vol perspective,” said Matt Amberson, principal at options analytics firm ORATS.

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