NEW YORK - With U.S. stocks a stone's throw away from hitting a record high, Wall Street's so-called "fear gauge" slipped to a fresh six-month low on Friday, in a sign investors expect the good times to keep rolling.
The S&P 500 crossed the 2,900 mark for the first time since early October on Friday, boosted by a jump in Walt Disney shares and as bank stocks surged after strong results from JPMorgan Chase & Co.
The stock index's recent gains spell a striking reversal in fortunes for investors, who just a few months ago had been staring at the demise of the longest bull market for stocks.
Stocks tumbled hard late last year, as investors fretted over mounting concerns about global growth, waning corporate profits, U.S.-China trade tensions and the Fed's path on rate hikes.
But you wouldn't know that looking at the Cboe Volatility Index today. On Friday the VIX - a widely followed options-based barometer of expected near-term volatility for stocks - slipped as low as 12.11, its lowest since October 5.
That was shortly after the S&P logged its highest ever close at 2,929.67 on Sept 21, and marked the beginning of what became a near 20% correction to a low near 2,351 on Christmas Eve that saw the VIX spike above 36.
Investors' forecast for low volatility is in line with how stocks have been moving of late. One-month historical volatility for the S&P 500 index - a measure of daily gyrations - is close to the lowest it has been since October.
Some Wall Street analysts say stocks have room to run.
Equity exposure for volatility targeting portfolios and hedge funds are low and retail investors have yet to return to U.S. equity funds after record outflows in December, JPMorgan analysts Bram Kaplan and Shawn Quigg said in a note on Friday.
"Despite the fact that the market is closing in on record highs, systematic and macro investors have a long way to go in terms of re-levering their portfolios," the analysts said.
The return of these types of investors to stocks can continue for the next couple of months and support the market, they said.
Despite the stock market turmoil late last year, traders are discounting volatility, citing historical trade patterns.
"Once a cyclical correction within a secular bull market is over, the next rally tends to be strong," said technical analysts at BofA Merrill Lynch Global Research said in a note on Thursday.
The amount of time for the S&P 500 to regain the high from the start of the cyclical correction within a secular bull market averages 15.4 months, according to BofA Merrill Lynch data.
"If 2351 from 12/24 proves to be the correction low on the S&P 500, this suggests that the S&P 500 could achieve a new high in January 2020 given the start of the correction in September," the BofA analysts said.