Market Emotions and the CNN Fear and Greed Index

There’s an interesting gauge of sentiment among market participants called the CNN Fear & Greed Index. The index looks at seven different market indicators and how far they’ve moved from their normal range. All seven indicators are then combined with equal weighting for a final index reading. The financial crisis in 2008 caused the fear and greed index to plummet to a reading of 12. A few years later, in 2012, when markets were recovering, the index was soaring into the high 90’s.

The CNN Fear & Greed index does an excellent job of capturing the emotions of the market during a given period. There are dozens of indicators the creators of the index could have selected, but the seven they decided on have shown to provide an accurate snapshot of current emotions. Here are a few of my favorite indicators showing greed and fear included in the CNN index.

Put and Call Options

The put & call ratio is a gauge of investor’s overall mood in markets. While a ‘put’ is a right to sell an underlying asset at a set price, a ‘call’ option is a right to buy an asset at a predetermined price. If traders are buying more calls than puts, it can very often be a sign of rising bullish sentiment or an indication that markets will rise in value. When traders buy more puts than calls, it can indicate bearishness in the markets.

The put & call ratio is a contrarian indicator where at extreme levels, it can signal turning points in markets. Reversals either up or down are sometimes followed by extreme readings in the put and call ratio.

Market Volatility

Market volatility is commonly measured by the CBOE Volatility Index or the ‘VIX.’ The vix calculates a measurement of expected volatility in the U.S. stock market. It’s derived from real-time prices of the S&P 500 call & put options. You can see in the chart below, where the vix hit a high of nearly 80 during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, where the stock market sank along with global markets and economies.

market emotions
A historical chart of the Vix Volatility index from 1990 to 2018