Despite a recent surge, the so-called fear index remains in a trading range that suggests investors aren’t expecting a recession this year.
With an average of about 24 this month, the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index is consistent with a scenario of positive, though low, economic growth, according to a Goldman Sachs Group Inc. report. The “Red Zone” happens when the VIX is above 25 and climbing, which historically coincides with flat or negative U.S. gross domestic product.
The oil rout and concerns about China’s slowdown have put the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index on track for its worst month since 2011. While the VIX measure of stress in equities has jumped 27 percent in January, it’s still about half the level it reached during a China-led selloff in August. The gauge had its smallest move of the year on Wednesday, after the Federal Reserve kept interest rates unchanged and said it’ll keep observing how the global economy and markets impact the U.S. outlook.
“The options market is pricing weak, but not recessionary economic outcomes so far in 2016,” Aleksandar Timcenko, an economist at the bank, wrote in a note. “The observed market returns across a wide swathe of traded assets is most consistent with the more benign state of the VIX.”
While economic data have been missing estimates, forecasters expect U.S. growth in 2016 to be about the same as last year: 2.4 percent. A report on Friday is projected to show GDP advanced 0.8 percent in the fourth quarter.
The Goldman Sachs analysis shows the VIX is currently in a “low and rising” phase, which tends to last about two months on average. Technology and financial shares typically decline the most during this period, losing about 2 percent on average, the bank said.
“While the financials and technology sectors have been hit hard in 2016, the overall pattern of year-to-date sector returns seems to be more consistent with a market pricing weaker, but not negative, growth outcomes,” the report said.