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No, the stock market isn’t freaking out (yet) over the austerity crisis

Reading one headline Wednesday morning, you might be inclined to think the sky is already starting to fall on the U.S. market because of the austerity crisis. "Fiscal worries weigh on Wall Street," declared the Financial Times. "U.S. equities markets gyrated in morning trading on Wednesday as investors reacted to headlines coming out of Washington on the fiscal cliff." 

Just hours later, the mood seemed to change dramatically — all because of new developments, we're told, on the fiscal cliff. "U.S. stocks revert to gains on budget talks, said MarketWatch. "U.S. stocks turned positive Wednesday after House Speaker John Boehner voiced optimism about a budget deal." 

But is the fiscal cliff really creating massive turbulence in the stock market? Not yet: Chicago's VIX, which measures volatility, is actually fairly low right now, especially as compared to the spike during the debt-ceiling crisis and the massive increase during the financial crisis, as shown in this chart from BlackRock:

(Source: BlackRock)

That's not to say that the markets are immune to the austerity crisis. The market has been sliding since the election, and investors say they're more worried about the fiscal talks, which has left many companies on edge. And far more volatility and market peril could still be in store, depending on how the negotiations in Washington play out.

But despite the headlines, the markets aren't gyrating wildly with every development, or lack thereof, in Washington — or anything else. In reality, very little has happened so far in terms of a budget agreement that's become public knowledge. The big event that MarketWatch says turned the markets around this morning? Boehner's proclamation that he is "optimistic that we can continue to work together to avert this crisis sooner rather than later." In other words, pure boilerplate that gives us no actual indication of progress or lack thereof, leaving the level of uncertainty just about where it was before.

(h/t Joe Weisenthal)



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Ezra Klein · November 28, 2012

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