U.S. investors are in the grip of “extreme fear” for the first time in six months, according to CNN’s widely quoted “Fear and Greed” index.
The index, which uses a handful of inputs including the level of the Cboe Volatility Index
or Vix, better known as Wall Street’s “fear gauge,” reflected a reading of “extreme fear” Wednesday for the first time since March 15, when markets were still reeling from the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank.
The Vix traded as high as 18.70 on Wednesday, its highest level since May 25, according to FactSet data.
In addition to the Vix, the gauge incorporates other data points, including the number of New York Stock Exchange-listed stocks trading at 52-week highs compared with the number trading at 52-week lows, according to CNN’s website.
Options-market activity is also incorporated in the form of the five-day put-to-call ratio, which currently stands at 1.07, also the highest level since March.
That signals that demand for puts, which represent insurance against further stock market losses, has surpassed demand for calls, which represent a bet that a stock index or an individual stock will rise. Options give holders the right, but not the obligation, to buy or sell at an agreed upon price before a set expiration date.
Interestingly, the only index input not projecting a reading of “fear” or “extreme fear” was a reading on junk-bond spreads vs. investment-grade spreads, which haven’t budged much despite the upward march of long-term Treasury yields.
U.S. stocks have been swinging between gains and losses all day on Wednesday as the S&P 500
struggles to avoid what would be its fifth red day in eight. The S&P 500 was up 0.2% at 4,82 in recent trade Wednesday, while the Nasdaq Composite
was trading 0.5% higher and the Dow Jones Industrial Average
was lingering in the red with a drop of 16 points, or 0.1%, to 33,599.
U.S. stocks have been sliding since the Federal Reserve announced projections last week showing it planned to keep its benchmark policy interest rate target above 5% through 2024, longer than investors had expected. Rising Treasury yields and a strengthening dollar have been blamed by analysts for driving much of stocks’ woes.