The Market Is Underestimating Fed Risk Even After Rout, Bank of America Says

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The Market Is Underestimating Fed Risk Even After Rout, Bank of America Says

(Bloomberg) -- A late-summer lull is nowhere to be seen in the stock market, with traders recalibrating their expectations after a blunt warning from the Federal Reserve chief in Jackson Hole. Most likely, they have a long ways to go. 

So say derivatives strategists at Bank of America Corp (NYSE: BAC )., who point to a disparity in price-swing expectations in equities and other asset classes. The S&P 500’s rebound in the two months through mid-August sent the Cboe Volatility Index, or VIX, into a dormant zone next to similar gauges in the rate or currency markets. The rude awakening that Jerome Powell’s speech has been to US shares means that investors need to catch up in pricing policy risk. 

“Equities have been particularly complacent about the changed macro environment and policy setup, where the Fed fighting inflation through financial conditions means risk asset rallies both force and allow them to hike more aggressively,” Bank of America strategists including Gonzalo Asis wrote in a note to clients. “As investors return from Labor Day, we believe there is still plenty of room for equity vol to catch up with levels of stress in other asset classes.”

Mathematically, no strict tick-by-tick correlation between volatility gauges in stocks and other asset classes is present, but a conceptual link still exists. Jitters in markets elsewhere create conditions where the cost of hedging against swings in equities should go up. That did happen -- sending the VIX Index up by 6.2 volatility points since mid-August. Bank of America’s year-end forecast on the S&P 500 , at 3,600, likely implies that a further jump in the fear gauge is in store -- with the stock benchmark dropping nearly 10% from Tuesday’s close.

Read: BofA’s Subramanian Says Reasons to Be Bullish Are ‘Pretty Thin’

Concern about the stock-market complacency has somewhat eased in past week, with the VIX topping 25 after trading below 20 earlier this month. 

But that’s still pale in comparison to a broad gauge of implied volatility in Treasuries, the ICE (NYSE: ICE ) BofA MOVE Index, which saw few signs of dormancy during the S&P 500’s two-month rebound. The ratio of the MOVE to the VIX smoothed over a 10-day basis, reaching 5.8 last week, the highest level since 2017. 

The relative relationship between stock and bond volatility has been a subject of intense scrutiny this year, making the fair value of the VIX amid wilder swings in the front end of the Treasury market a point of heated debate that’s likely to continue.

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