It’s a classic risk off market today as of 4 p.m. New York time.
All the safe havens are up. The yen is ahead 1.2% to 109.65 to the dollar, breaching the 110 level for the first time since November. Gold is 1.73% higher to $1275.60 an ounce. The 10-year U.S. Treasury is up and the yield is down to 2.30%.
And riskier asset classes are down. Modestly.
U.S. stocks are lower with the Standard & Poor’s 500 down 0.29% and the NASDAQ Composite lower by 0.42%. The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) is 0.24% lower and the NASDAQ Biotechnology ETF (IBB) is down 0.58%.
The VIX volatility index is up another 7.19% today to 15.06, having moved above 14 for the first time since December 2016 yesterday. The VVIX, which measures the volatility of the VIX, climbed another 15.78% to 103.56. The VVIX closed at 75.96 on March 16.
There are lots of reasons for a short-term charge in volatility here. Geopolitics are truly scary from Syria to North Korea. We’re about to enter first quarter earnings season with high expectations, which as always on Wall Street, raises the possibility of disappointment. Some of the foundations of the Trump rally are now in question: A $1 trillion infrastructure package and promised cuts to corporate tax rates have been, at best, significantly delayed. And after so many weeks of very low volatility readings, traders had built up large positions “short” volatility, betting that volatility would fall still further. Those short positions now have to be covered by buying long volatility.
Whether this short-term surge in volatility and what is still a very modest move away from risk turns into anything more serious depends on 1) the earnings results that U.S. companies start to report beginning with the big Wall Street banks on Thursday. Financial stocks have been one of the best performing sectors for much of the Trump rally until recently. Now the market wants to see them deliver on those promises of earnings growth in first quarter results and in guidance for the rest of 2017. And 2) on whether scary geopolitics get still scarier in the next few days. Lots of saber-rattling coming from Russia, Syria, North Korea, and the United States. That kind of rhetoric sets a market on edge but as long as it remains rhetoric, I expect time will dissipate these fears over the next few weeks.
At this juncture I wouldn’t take on more risk. A little selling of riskier positions is appropriate. And a hedge or two to protect on the downside wouldn’t be amiss. For some ideas, check my Volatility Portfolio and my recent posts on the VIX and VVIX on my subscription JugglingWithKnives.com and JubakAM.com sites. But no need, as of yet, to disrupt entire portfolios.