"Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power." -- Lao Tzu
However the banking debacle in Cyprus plays out over the next few days and weeks, it should serve as a reminder that, economically speaking, much of Europe remains on shaky ground.
And with recent GDP numbers for the area indicating the Eurozone remains firmly ensconced in recession, expected to shrink 0.3% in 2013 according to the European Commission (EC), investors could hardly be blamed for swapping out their recent state of complacency for a higher state of alert, at least in regard to that region's short-to-medium term economic health.
Though the bottom line on the week was that Wall Street's major indices ended up relatively close to where they started, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) down 0.6% and the S&P 500 Index off by about 1%, last Monday's volatile market reaction to the Cyprus "event" was quite telling.
It seems that the Eurozone's sovereign debt crisis, a staple of market drama for much of 2012, can return to the forefront of the collective investor memory bank at the drop of a reminder that the region can be at times incredibly myopic.
How else can one explain the decision of the Cyprus government to state its intention of imposing a levy on depositors' bank accounts? Did the leadership team involved in that decision process really believe that the international investment community would applaud the move?
That answer will likely be found once the results of any brokered deal between Cyprus and the "troika" -- the European Central Bank (ECB), the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the EC -- come to light.
Since Cyprus effectively needs a $13 billion bailout from the troika just to keep its banking system from collapsing, it finds itself with little leverage and even fewer options. And the troika has apparently been insistent that Cyprus comes up with approximately $7.5 billion in order to access the $13 billion of bailout money.
But it would be hard to see how a de facto insistence by the troika that Cyprus impose a virtually unprecedented set of rules upon its banks' depositors, both national and international, could turn out well for the IMF, the ECB, the EC, or really, anyone at all.
So let's assume for the briefest of moments that, similar to the recent Washington fiscal cliff sturm und drang, cooler heads actually prevail, and that some resolution emerges that puts the Cyprus drama to rest, at least for the short term.
It still will have served as a reminder to Wall Street that the Eurozone is just a shout away from the next impending crisis. Quite rightly, investors might take a closer gander at the recent spate of negative projections for the region's economy.
According to the latest composite Purchasing Managing Index (PMI) numbers, which provides a fairly good reading on the health of the region's manufacturing sector, the 17 countries that comprise the single currency area collectively suffered its sixth contraction in a row. Taken together with the EC's most recent projections, indicating the Eurozone's current recession will likely remain in place for at least the remainder of the year, investor sentiment should be set to wary.
Ergo, the Eurozone should be regarded as a region with a high chance of increasing volatility, making it a reasonably good shorting opportunity.
For fans of ETFs, one could utilize MSCI EMU Index Fund (EZU), which tracks the MSCI EMU Index, as the vehicle of choice for the short play. The MSCI EMU Index measures Eurozone equity market performance.
But what about the bullish market currently trending? What if the trend holds and you are left at a loss on that Eurozone short?
One solution would be to set up a logical pairs trade.
So, to offset the downside of the EZU play, a strong bull market proxy would be required. Something that has not topped out along with the new market highs, something that retains strong potential in multiple economic scenarios.
The question then would be: What fits the bill?
Well, you could balance the short side of a pairs-style trade with none other than the once-and-future Wall Street darling, Apple (AAPL).
True, Apple has run in inverse correlation to the uptrend of the S&P 500 Index for most of 2013. But investor sentiment towards the stock has shifted somewhat as of late, and it is worth noting that, over the course of the last month, the stock has broken out of a six-month downward trend, adding over 9% to its stock price in the process.
As well, a glance at the MACD (moving average convergence/divergence) points to a sustained upward momentum for the tech titan.
Investors are returning to the Apple bandwagon for a number of reasons, depending upon their respective perspectives.
The lure of an increase in its dividend, though hardly a sure thing, seems more likely, perhaps due to the bright light directed at the stock's huge hoard of cache, courtesy of Greenlight Capital's David Einhorn.
Other investors are recalibrating their recent diminished expectations of the company's growth, perhaps buying into the promise of the next generation of Apple products, or the prospect of new, improved versions of old ones. Whether Apple watches actually come to market, or Apple TV gains market share, may not matter in the short term as much as the perception that Apple has bottomed out, management hasn't panicked, and there is more reason for the stock to be closer to its old $700 high than its current $460 level.
In addition to the uber cap's huge cache of cash, the strong brand recognition, devoted customer base, and relatively low P/E, Apple is currently establishing some technical attributes that warrant consideration.
For the first time since October of last year the company finds itself atop its 50-day Moving Average. This may be taken as an indication that the stock has recovered from its December "death cross," when its 50-day MA fell below its 200-day MA. (The stock then proceeded to drop by about 30% over the subsequent three months.)
In addition, Apple seems to have found support at $425, so the current entry point, around $460 as of last Friday, could be seen as a reasonably attractive risk-to-reward opportunity for traders, as $525 is the next likely level of major resistance for the stock.
Bottom line: Go long Apple, and short the Eurozone.