(By Erik Kobayashi-Solomon) Mildly disappointing earnings news from a few Blue Chips succeeded in pulling the S&P 500 down at the start of the week. However, with most earnings announcements behind us now, index volatility fell.
Several weeks into the spring earnings season, it seems that investors in index options are tending toward a return to complacency. Even though the VIX popped up above the 18%-per-year level as markets fell on Friday and Monday, by Thursday, the index had gained back its losses, and the VIX had fallen back to 15.5, approaching the level to which it had slid to before the beginnings of earnings season. By Thursday, the VIX had fallen 3.2% on the week, while the S&P 500 gained 30 basis points.
Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) was the most notable blue-chip loser for the week, announcing reduced revenues and a lowered forecast on the heels of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, but Wal-Mart (WMT), Target (TGT), and Lowe's (LOW) also fell after reporting earnings. The biggest business news from the week was undoubtedly the LinkedIn (LNKD) IPO, which saw the shares double on their first day--harkening back to the oh-so-wonderful days of the tech boom! The most titillating news was certainly that of the International Monetary Fund managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, arrested on sexual assault charges in New York. Considering the financial troubles in Europe now--Portugal became the latest ward of the EU "state"--the IMF could use a strong, credible leader at its helm; this looks nearly impossible after Strauss-Kahn's hotel maid debacle and subsequent resignation.
Both the VIX and Morningstar's proprietary MVI are again trading about 1 standard deviation below their previous-year averages.
The MVI finished the week at an annualized rate of 36.5%, 2.4 times higher than the VIX, and a much more accurate view of what a single-name option investor could expect to pay for an option. Large-cap shares' options are trading for around 31%, compared with 41% for mid-cap stocks, and 58% for small-cap ones. In contrast, the above-mentioned Hewlett-Packard November expiration at-the-money options are trading for only around 25%.