(This story Sept 3 corrects S&P 500 year-to-date gain to 21% instead of 20.4%, paragraph 8)
Investors are girding their portfolios for potential stock market volatility, even as equities hover near fresh highs after logging seven straight months of gains.
Utilities (.SPLRCU) are the S&P 500’s best-performing sector so far this quarter with a 10.2% gain. They have been followed by other popular destinations for nervous investors, including real estate and healthcare.
In derivatives markets, the gap in price between the front month Cboe Volatility Index futures contract and the VIX index itself (.VIX) is higher than it has been about 85% of the time over the last five years. This suggests some investors expect the calm in stocks to give way to more pronounced price swings in the coming weeks and months.
Meanwhile, the Japanese yen and Swiss franc – viewed as havens during uncertain times – have outperformed most G10 currencies this quarter.
“It’s been a year of positive market returns, but it’s a bull market which has pretty defensive undertones,” said Saira Malik, head of global equities at money manager Nuveen Investments.