NYT's Irwin: Calm Stock Market Doesn't Signal Crisis Ahead

Wednesday, 11 Jun 2014 09:26 PM

By Dan Weil

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Stock market volatility, as measured by the CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), dropped to a seven-year low last week, and that has some Federal Reserve officials and others afraid that a crisis will follow.

The thinking is that investors are growing too complacent about risk.

But Neil Irwin of The New York Times says he's "not persuaded" that doom lies ahead.

Editor's Note: 18.79% Annual Returns ... for Life?

"The reality is that if we forget Wall Street for a minute, the economy itself has displayed uncommon stability over the last year," he writes.

"So this may be less a case of investors becoming complacent and more a case of the real-world economy becoming more stable, and markets adjusting to reflect this reality."

Also, according to the theory of deceased economist Hyman Minsky, low volatility itself doesn't increase risk, but rather gives economic actors incentive to take more risk, Irwin says.

So instead of looking at the VIX, we should pay attention to lending standards, bank leverage and other measures of risk-taking, he maintains.

"Some of those indicators are showing worrisome signs, others not so much. But just knowing that the stock market is less volatile doesn’t answer the question."

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein says the low volatility won't last.

"The luxury of a steady, calm, quiet market" might continue for a period, he told CNBC. But, "at the end of the day, it's not a normal condition to have interest rates at zero," he said.

"Eventually people will acknowledge higher [economic] growth. Money as a commodity will start to cost something again. . . . That in itself will produce a shock to the market."

Editor's Note: 18.79% Annual Returns ... for Life?

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