As you look through today's headlines talking about why the market fell, you'll probably read about poor economic data bringing down early gains. Consumer confidence moved into negative territory, which spooked investors and caused a late day sell-off. However, investors keying in on today's economic news are missing a more important trend.
The crazy markets that defined 2011 are suddenly gone.
Across last year, the markets often felt like a roller coaster. Up! Down! The U.S. gets downgraded! Europe is collapsing! Buy! Sell!
At times it felt like the world was once again teetering on the verge of a financial crisis. In a way, that acclimated investors to the idea that nauseating market movements were the norm. However, an interesting development is playing out so far in 2012. While the Dow Jones industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI ) has risen more than 3% this year, the volatility that defined the market last year is fading away.
Look no further than today's action. The Dow slipped just 0.16% on the day, after nudging down a mere 0.05% in yesterday's action. The real early story of 2012, then, is the sudden death of volatility. The commonly followed Volatility S&P 500 (INDEX: ^VIX ) , or VIX, is now 60% off its 52-week highs!
|Dow Jones Industrial Average
|Nasdaq (INDEX: ^IXIC )
|S&P 500 (INDEX: ^GSPC )
However, even in a flat market you'll find some losers. So if you're looking for the culprit that drove the Dow lower today, look no further than ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) . The oil giant met earnings expectations but saw its production fall to 4.53 million barrels of oil equivalent per day from 4.97 million a year ago. Exxon closed the day down 2% and is suddenly worth $25 billion less than Apple in its quest to be the world's largest company.
The stretch of calm across the markets might be a temporary blip. However, if you've become hard-wired to think about the markets as a schizophrenic force wildly swinging between large losses and gains, don't overlook the change that's quietly defined the first part of 2012.
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