In times of extreme emotion it can be productive to take a step back and analyze the numbers. On the sixth day of this nuclear crisis doctors have tested radiation levels in approximately 150 people who were in close vicinity of the Fukushima Daiichi site. Authorities have taken measures to decontaminate 23 people according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The population was evacuated in a radius of 12 miles. People within 18 miles have been asked to remain indoors. The latest radiation readings in Fukushima showed a drop to 60 microsieverts per hour. To put that kind of exposure in context, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission allows dose limits of 10,000 microsieverts per nuclear event. The average American receives annual exposure of 6,200 microsieverts. Investors need to understand how to separate a human crisis from an economic crisis. The Japan tragedy will be limited to a human crisis. These kinds of numbers are not worthy of widespread economic fear.
What is our worst case scenario? After the explosion at Chernobyl, the biggest nuclear power plant disaster of all time, 28 firefighters and emergency workers died from acute radiation sickness in the first three months. Ten years after the Chernobyl event the U.N. released a 1,200 page report pointing out that there were 1,000 cases of leukemia in the village right next to Chernobyl and 998 of them were cured. Chernobyl totally exploded, it had no containment building, the fear that the cloud of radiation would kill tens of thousands of people and deform children never materialized.
I have lost count of the number of sensationalized media headlines that are doing their part to sell content. Very few, if any of the actual stories are as dire as the headlines suggest. When we’re talking about 23 people getting decontaminated and an evacuation region of 12 miles there is no reason to overreact. It’s interesting to watch the media skew the public’s sense of reality. Allow me enlighten your perspective. Did you know that 37,000 people in the U.S. die of flu-related causes every year? Do you want to know how many people die in the world ever day? According to the 2010 World Population Data Sheet we lose 156,000 people every 24 hours. Over 56 million people die every year and yet somehow the economy keeps on ticking.
I’m a big believer that the contagious spread of irrational fear is the single best reason to buy stocks. Our hearts go out to any who suffer and we all know that Japan faces a long road to recovery but to suppose that this natural disaster is a long term reason to sell stocks is foolish. The media has done another great job of spreading the doctrine of fear. The economic truth is that more than $200 billion will be poured into the Japanese economy and this proud nation will rebuild itself. The economic truth is that many businesses have already reopened in Tokyo. Toyota (NYSE:TM) will resume business by next week. The Nikkei rallied 5.7% overnight. Don’t allow the 15 stock photographs of devastation lead you to believe that the entire country is in ruins. This world deals with natural disasters every year and more often than not those disasters turn into an economic stimulus for the region. $200 billion getting spent on Japan might as well be called QE3.
Meanwhile I went into my local Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) store this morning and the good news was that they received a new shipment of iPad 2’s, the bad news was that they had already sold out. Reports of lines at Apple stores in New York City and San Francisco continue for the sixth straight day. Analysts are declaring that the supposed tablet wars are already over as Apple’s lead appears insurmountable. At such a time in Apple’s history, any irrational weakness in the stock is representative of a buying opportunity. At the April earnings report Apple will be reporting sales of Verizon (NYSE:VZ) iPhones in addition to iPad 2’s for the first time. Today is March 16th and the stock is down another $12. This selloff is a gift. We are ready to begin putting our 76% allocation of cash to work. Today we are purchasing a 5% allocation of AAPL May 2011 $330 calls. We plan on being fully loaded by the end of next week.
Disclosure: I am long AAPL.