It isn't easy to see stock-market nervousness when major indexes are on a tear – but it's there, it's rising, and it suggests investors aren't completely comfortable with today's environment.
From the conflict in Syria to surging U.S. bond yields to rising crude oil prices to an expected shift in policy from the Federal Reserve to slowing Chinese economic activity, there is a lot to contemplate these days, and various indicators are reflecting some discomfort.
The CBOE Volatility index, or VIX, is just one measure of investor anxiety. And while the so-called fear gauge is still low, it has been moving noticeably higher: It recently touched a two-month high of 17, up from a near-record low below 12 at the start of August. On Monday, the VIX was at 15.5.
Gold, which some see as a fear-commodity, has also been rising – from a low of about $1,200 (U.S.) an ounce at the end of June, to more than $1,400 at the end of August. On Monday, gold traded at $1,387 an ounce.
If that doesn't worry you, then consider the baffling pattern of late-day stock market selloffs. Bespoke Investment Group pointed out that the final hour of trading can say a lot about comfort levels among investors: A rising market in the final hour can signal optimism that nothing bad is going to happen overseas while North American markets are closed, while a falling market can suggest unease.
Over the past month, the S&P 500 has fallen 18 times out of 22 trading days in the final 60 minutes of trading, and eight of the past nine days – often when the index is up overall.
"Back in March when the market was charging nicely higher with not a care in the world, investors were bidding up stocks in the final hour of trading," Bespoke said on its blog. "Since July, however, we've seen a steady downtrend in last-hour performance, and [on Friday] it hit its worst level of the year."
For sure, these patterns could be nothing more than late-summer jitters: Investors no doubt wonder where stocks are headed after the S&P 500 hit a record-high in early August without so much as a 10 per cent correction over the past two years. In terms of after-market worries, Syria, oil prices and the Chinese economy are weighing on sentiment – and these concerns could easily dissipate.
But, clearly, not everyone is feeling so upbeat right now.