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MarketWatch MarketPulseJan 18, 2019
Wall Street's 'fear index' is on track for its biggest one-month plunge in nearly 3 years
The Cboe Volatility index has tumbled in recent trade and is on pace for its steepest monthly slide since March of 2016, according to FactSet data. Wall Street's so-called "fear index," uses S&P 500 options to calculate expectations for volatility over the coming 30 days, and tends to trade inversely to stocks. Equity benchmarks, following a bruising 2018, have experienced a mutltiday stock-market rally that has been partly underpinned by hope of a resolution between China and the U.S. on trade relations. That, in turn, has driven the the volatility index sharply lower. Investors tend to use the gauge partly to hedge against declines in the market, with rising prices equating to a higher cost of such coverage. Most recently, the index was at 17.40 and has declined about 31.55% thus far in January (markets are closed on Jan. 21 in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.). That level of decline would represent the most severe for the gauge since it fell 32.12% in March of 2016. The index's drop in 2016 had also been fueled by relief following concerns about the health of the Chinese economy, which continues to be a source of concern for market participants after data out of Beijing has shown clear signs of slowing down. Still, market participants have waxed optimistic that tensions between Beijing and Washington, if resolved, would help to stem any economic contraction in global markets. The VIX's historical average stands at around 19 or 20. The S&P 500 and the Russell 2000 index have both enjoyed the best start to a year since 1987. And all of the main stock indexes, including the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq Composite Index were looking at solid weekly and monthly gains.

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