Every year I assemble a chart that is my retrospective look at the year in volatility. While 2012 was the first year since 2006 that the VIX failed to make it out of the 20s, this was not due to an absence of threats to the stock market.
During the first half of the year, the eurozone was the primary concern for most investors, with the events surrounding the two nail-biting elections in Greece haunting the markets from April through June. With Greece off the front page, the focus of the European sovereign debt crisis shifted to unsustainable government debt yields in Spain and Italy, which only began to turn around after Mario Draghi pledged to do "whatever it takes” to save the euro in July.
Meanwhile, markets in the United States were relatively calm due to the repeated intervention of the Fed, which offered up QE 2.5, QE3, and QE4. The global economy also found support in the form of central bank stimulus plans from China, Japan, and the eurozone.
The last hurrah for the VIX and volatility in 2012 was the fiscal cliff, which was largely overlooked during the U.S. elections, but dominated the headlines even before the last vote was counted. The fiscal cliff issue remained the No. 1 source of concern for investors throughout the balance of the year and had the VIX moving counter to its usual direction for most of December.
As 2013 dawns, fears related to the fiscal cliff are plummeting and dragging the VIX down with it. But clearly, the issues that have kept the financial markets on edge for the past few years are not yet behind us, and unseen risks are always lurking just over the horizon.