Fed Phobia, Sour Apples, And The Truth About Volatility

Includes: AAPL, SPY
by: Lou Basenese

Every Friday, I muzzle up and do my best to let a handful of carefully selected charts do the talking for me. So let's get to it.

Nothing But Minor Jitters

Freak out alert: On Wednesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke promised to end his bond-buying addiction -- cold turkey -- in mid-2014. That is, as long as the economy is strong enough. As a result, investor fortitude was pushed to the brink. Stocks sold off hard, sending the S&P 500 Index down 1.4%.

Before you head for the exits, too, let's get a little perspective. Although Wednesday's post-Fed meeting sell-off was bad, it hardly qualifies as horrific. Back in September 2011, for instance, the S&P 500 actually sold off twice as much on the Fed's comments. And although the downturn might lead you to believe that volatility is on the rise, that's just not the case.

Over the last 50 days, the S&P 500 has been up or down an average of just 0.69%, according to Bespoke Investment Group. But rewind to early 2009, and stocks averaged a daily move of more than 4%. Now that's volatility! So now that we know volatility has been worse before, should we just stay calm and carry on? Let's get a little more perspective first.

The Tale of the Tape(r)

As I've noted before, when the Fed starts to taper (i.e., gradually reduce its monetary stimulus efforts), it could bring about the end of the bull market. Notice I said "could" and not "will." A quick glance at Japan's history reveals why:

When the Bank of Japan (BoJ) tapered in 2006, the Nikkei 225 Index dropped 20% in a matter of months. But as Societe Generale's Alain Bokobza notes, "The sell-off was nonetheless short-lived." In fact, Japanese stocks didn't stop rallying until a year later, which coincided with the start of the Great Depression -- not the actions of the BoJ. So when the Fed ends its extreme easing efforts, it might hurt a little, but not necessarily a lot -- or for very long. That is, if history is any guide. (Hint: It is.)

Sour Apples

After a roughly 40% slide since Sept. 17, 2012, is it finally a contrarian time to buy Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)? If we ask analysts, the answer appears to be a resounding, "Yes!" Nearly 75% of the 68 analysts covering the stock currently rate it a Buy. I wouldn't rush out to scoop up shares just yet, though.

Like meteorologists, analysts tend to be wrong more than they're right. Historically speaking, Apple shares don't start rallying until analyst bullishness drops to a range of 50% to 60%. And we're not there yet. In other words, I'd wait for a few more analysts to turn bearish before we turn bullish on the stock.