S&P 500 volatility at 70-year high

NEW YORK, March 19 (Reuters) - Volatility in the Standard & Poor's 500 stock index .SPX, the most widely-used barometer of the U.S. stock market, is at a 70-year high, according to an analysis released on Wednesday by Standard & Poor's.

Measured by daily changes of at least 1 percent in the index, volatility has soared since credit concerns became a critical issue in the summer of 2007, S&P said.

The number of significant daily market moves was 12.9 percent in the first half of 2007, but rose to 38.6 percent in the second half of last year as concerns grew. The number of such daily moves has increased to 51.9 percent in 2008, a level not seen since 1938, S&P said.

The review by Howard Silverblatt, S&P’s senior index analyst, said that the upcoming quarterly earnings season is likely to add to the volatility.

Silverblatt said earnings estimates are unusually wide considering how close it is to the start of the earnings period.

With estimates far apart, “there are going to be a significant number of surprises out there, which will translate into additional buying and selling pressure,” he said. (Reporting by Cal Mankowski; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)