Fear is the hottest stock on the market right now

The Dow is plunging, but the Fear Index is soaring
February 6, 2018, 8:09pm

Monday’s market plunge may have leveled off, but the “fear index” — the indicator that Wall Street uses to measure market volatility — is still soaring.

Monday marked the market’s biggest single-day point drop ever, with the Dow Jones industrial average sinking a record 1,175 points. Stocks plummeted again after markets opened Tuesday morning, with the Dow falling another 500 points, before recovering somewhat to slightly below where it closed on Monday, at least as of press time. But though the free fall appears to have stopped, traders are still very freaked out, according to the CBOE Volatility Index — also known as the “fear index.”

This index, established in the early 1990s, was essentially designed to track just how nervous investors are, and how likely stock prices are to fluctuate in the nearterm. It shows investors had been sitting comfy through early 2018, with the index value last week hovering between 13 and 14. But as the stocks dropped toward the end of last week, the fear index crawled up, finally spiking Tuesday morning at just above 50 — an increase of about 280 percent. The Dow, on the other hand, was down nearly 10 percent from where it had been prior to the free fall.

Investor fear, as measured by this index, hasn't been this high since the 1990s. The numbers this week beat out even the 2009 recession.

As the market levels off, however, so has the fear index — to some extent. But things aren’t quite copacetic in investorland: Traders as still twice as afraid as they were last week, according to the fear index, which hovered around 37 as of press time, right where it was at Monday’s close.

Still, there's this funny thing about investors: They’ll always find something to be afraid of. In May of last year, the fear index hit a record low and investors panicked then, too. The fear index had only ever dipped that low in the months leading up to big stock losses.