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A measure of skittishness in the US stock market has climbed to the highest level since the aftermath of the presidential election, even as equities have charted a mostly smooth path to fresh all-time highs in recent weeks.

Credit Suisse’s fear barometer rose at the end of last week to 35.6, an increase of almost 10 points from the previous week and the highest reading since November 9, the day after Donald Trump’s shock election win.

The investment bank’s measure gauges three-month options on the S&P 500 index to determine investors’ willingness to “give up upside in order to secure downside protection,” said Mandy Xu, a derivatives strategist at Credit Suisse. Higher readings typically suggest that traders are pricing in higher levels of downside risk, she said.

Ms Xu said that a widening in the risk premium on US corporate bonds has played a role in the increase.

Spreads on US junk-rated bonds crossed 4pp last week for the first time since February 24, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch data. Meanwhile, the spread on high-grade credit has ticked up to 1.18 percentage points, from 1.15pp at the start of the month.

Wall Street’s growing skittishness comes as US stocks have climbed to fresh peaks amid optimism over corporate earnings, the potential for expansionary fiscal policy and a brightening economic outlook.

The S&P 500 index, the main US stock market index, has climbed almost 6 per cent since the end of last year. But it has only closed up by more than 1 per cent a single time in 2017, and has yet to close down by greater than 1 per cent, underscoring the muted volatility.

Investors may also be bracing for this week’s Federal Reserve meeting, in which policymakers are expected to raise rates for the third time since the end of the financial crisis, Ms Xu said.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2017. All rights reserved.
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