Skip to main content

Cookies and Privacy

We use cookies to improve your experience on our website. To find out more, read our updated Cookie policy, Privacy policy and Terms & Conditions

Traders sit in front of a board Frank Rumpenhorst/Getty Images

Why Financial Markets Underestimate Risk

Today's economy is in a “risk-on” period, when investors exchange safe-haven assets like US Treasury Bills for riskier ones, from real estate to carry-trade currencies. But when such behavior assumes that economic conditions are more stable than they are, as seems to be the case today, trouble inevitably follows.

CAMBRIDGE – During most of 2017, the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX) has been at the lowest levels of the last decade. Recently, the VIX dipped below nine, even lower than in March 2007, just before the subprime mortgage crisis nearly blew up the global financial system. Investors, it seems, are once again failing to appreciate just how risky the world is.

Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index (VIX

Known colloquially as the “fear index,” the VIX measures financial markets’ sensitivity to uncertainty – that is, the perceived probability of large fluctuations in the stock market’s value – as conveyed by stock index option prices. A low VIX signals a “risk-on” period, when investors “reach for yield,” exchanging US Treasury bills and other safe-haven securities for riskier assets like stocks, corporate bonds, real estate, and carry-trade currencies.

This is where we are today, despite the variety of actual risks facing the economy. While each of those risks will probably remain low in a given month, the unusually large number of them implies a reasonably strong chance that at least one will materialize over the next few years.

We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.

To continue reading, subscribe now.

Subscribe

Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.

https://prosyn.org/uryvUW8;

Handpicked to read next

  1. pei56_Miguel CandelaSOPA ImagesLightRocket via Getty Images_xijinpinghongkongprotestmasks Miguel Candela/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

    China’s Risky Endgame in Hong Kong

    Minxin Pei

    In 2017, Chinese President Xi Jinping declared that by the time the People’s Republic celebrates its centenary in 2049, it should be a “great modern socialist country” with an advanced economy. But following through with planned measures to tighten mainland China's grip on Hong Kong would make achieving that goal all but impossible.

    2