Wall Street’s "fear index" is showing a fairly average historic reading lately, but that average reading is unusual for the past three years. The Cboe Volatility Index, also known as the VIX, is a measure of expected volatility in the markets. In the long term, or since 1995, it averages a reading of 21, according to CNBC, which cites Volatility Management manager Dennis Davitt. So far this year, it’s average is 17.

That means that, historically, the market’s volatility is below average as measured by the VIX. But it likely seems more volatile because the VIX is actually higher than average in the last three years, according to a CNBC analysis. It averaged 16.7 in 2015, 15.8 in 2016 and 11.1 in 2017.

Essentially, in these latest years of the bull market, the markets have been quiet with relatively modest swings. (See also: Wall Street’s ‘Fear Gauge is Off: Goldman Sachs.)

Anomaly Years

"The anomaly that we saw in 2016 and 2017 was the really low VIX. So the tail-risk event, or the black swan event, was a slow-motion car crash of 2017, where we saw the VIX trading at 9," Davitt said. "So moving out of that extremely left-tail, low vol event into what is a more normal market is going to feel like the market has suddenly become significantly more volatile."

The Investopedia Anxiety Index (IAI) is currently hovering around 96.69 and reflects overall low anxiety levels as well. The IAI is constructed by analyzing which topics generate the most reader interest at a given time and comparing that with actual events in the financial markets. It breaks down investor anxiety into three distinct categories: macroeconomic, market and debit and credit. IAI's market anxiety index was neutral Thursday at 102.71.

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