MARKET SNAPSHOT: VIX At 2007 Low Is Like Sensory Deprivation For Stocks

By Dow Jones Business News, 
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By Wallace Witkowski, MarketWatch

SAN FRANCISCO (MarketWatch) -- Low stock trading volume and volatility are messing with investors' heads, fogging their view of the stock market. One analyst thinks these doldrums could turn out to be the new norm.

Once again, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) and the S&P 500 Index (SPX) finished the week at record closing highs and the Russell 2000 Index (RUT) finally broke back into a gain on the year.

Stocks rose in lock step Friday following a jobs report that was in-line with expectations and unlikely to change any tapering plans at the Federal Reserve.

But it all happened on the ninth-lowest volume day of the year. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) fell 8% to 10.73 on Friday, its lowest close since Feb. 23, 2007. Low volume and low volatility, coupled with record-high stock prices, have some investors nervous and thinking it might be 2007 again. That is, the rally before the plunge.

"Things are dull, and that's a bad thing for financial professionals who are always looking for the next big thing," said Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx, in a recent note. "Volatility is the most powerful sensory input for investors and brokers alike."

In the past week, daily trading volume has run below average compared to the average volume over the past four quarters, according to Barclays data.

Low stock volatility and thin trading volume are having a strange effect on investors. It's a lot like when someone is placed in an isolation tank, said Colas.

Read: What's lurking under the low VIX?

Are the markets in 'Altered States'?

With a lack of input, a mind in a sensory deprivation chamber seeks to make up its own input to compensate for the deficiency, resulting in hallucinations. Low volatility and volume are having a similar effect on the market, Colas reasons, resulting in "hallucinations" of both the bullish and bearish varieties.

For bears, the hallucination is that record high stock prices are solely the result of Federal Reserve easing, and that everything will fall apart when easing is gone, Colas said. For bulls, the hallucination is that economic growth with very little inflation is nearly guaranteed for the second half of the year.

While there may be a bit of truth in both, the "hallucination" is the part where the lack of market activity and movement is pushing investors to fill in the blanks.

What's closer to the truth, Colas said, is that investors got so used to the levels of volatility and volume from the crisis years that current levels seem unnaturally low by comparison. What's certain is that markets are structured differently than in 2007, so perhaps current volume and volatility has become the norm for the new structure, he said.

"The appetite to move around has diminished," Colas said in an interview. "People are more confident in their positions."

Colas said he's looking at oil as a possible source of action. Typical shocks in the market are often accompanied by spikes in oil prices. Crude for July delivery (CLN4) settled slightly lower on the week and prices are generally considered to be in a "sweet spot" heading into this week's OPEC meeting.

Surprise pullback likely

The longer the stock market remains quiet, however, the more likely a correction will blindside investors.

Take these statistics from the WSJ's data group:

A Dow bull market on average experiences a correction roughly every 12 months, their analysts note. The Dow is now up approximately 59% from its last correction low on October 3, 2011 and is on its 32nd month without a 10% pullback.

Most investors are extremely and complacently bullish and are ignoring weaker seasonal historical trends that occur around this time, said Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets.

Near-term, while many acknowledge that a pullback is coming, there's too much complacency and that makes a surprise pullback very likely, according to Belski. Stocks have already spent half the year clawing their way back to low-to-mid single digit gains for the year after an initial drop that followed 2013's 30% gain.

"I would be super careful as an investor being uber, uber-bullish right now after the huge move," he said.

Still, at its healthiest, a bull can run for quite a long time without a pause. The longest period without at least a 10% pullback was during the 1990-1997 run, at 82 months, according to the WSJ's data group.

All quiet on the earnings, data front

The quiet isn't just restricted to markets. This week is pretty thin on economic data and earnings.

May retail sales data is scheduled for release Thursday, with the University of Michigan consumer sentiment number for June to be released Friday.

One spot of interest is Apple Inc. ( AAPL ) On Monday, it will start trading as a sub-$100 stock, after a 7-for-1 stock split goes into effect.

Only one S&P 500 company reports earnings this week: H&R Block Inc. ( HRB ) on Wednesday.

Other companies of note reporting earnings include RadioShack Corp. ( RSH ) on Tuesday, Restoration Hardware Holding Inc. ( RH ) on Wednesday, and Lululemon Athletica Inc. ( LULU ) on Thursday.

More from MarketWatch:

Not even a bull market can interest people in stocks

Internet spooked as CIA joins Twitter, Facebook

Apple stock split: another "big" milestone

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  (END) Dow Jones Newswires
  06-09-140954ET
  Copyright (c) 2014 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.


This article appears in: Energy , Commodities

Referenced Stocks: AAPL , HRB , LULU , RH , RSH

Dow Jones Business News


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