Think this week's stock market rout is overdone? Then it's time to load up on fertilizer, uranium and casinos.
So says Vadim Zlotnikov, a strategist at BernsteinResearch who has been comparing stock performance with changes in the market volatility index, known as the VIX. The VIX has surged this week, posting a jump (see chart, right) as big as any since the collapse of Lehman Brothers.
Big increases in the VIX, also known as the fear index, tend to weigh especially heavily on companies whose earnings prospects are tied closely to economic growth. These so-called procyclical stocks won't look like a good bet if the unrest in Libya intensifies and the New York price of oil soars to, say, $120 a barrel.
But Zlotnikov says he doesn't expect that to happen – which should be good news for the global economy and companies whose profits are strongly tied to global growth.
"While potential for spread of unrest to other major oil producing countries is clearly possible, this is not our base case as governments of oil-producing countries will seek to mitigate unrest through wage and other concessions," he writes. "Under the scenario of sustainable $100 oil during 2011, the adverse economic impact should be contained and a 'normal' decline in VIX should ensue during the next couple of weeks."
Should that happen, shares of companies in procyclical industries such as agriculture and heavy industry should get a bounce, Zlotnikov says. He points to fertilizer giant Mosaic (MOS), casino operator Las Vegas Sands (LVS), trust bank State Street (STT), engine maker Cummins (CMI), aluminum smelter Alcoa (AA) and uranium miner Cameco (CCJ) as good bets for the normalcy trade.
And what if Mideast unrest is here to stay and the global growth engine does run out of gas? No surprise, he points to defensive stocks – starting with oil majors Chevron (CVX) and Conoco (COP), drugmaker Bristol Myers (BMY), electronics maker Sony (SNE) and satellite TV company DirecTV (DTV).
One way or another, we should have a decent idea in the coming weeks as to how fearful this episode may be.
"History suggests that major daily spikes in VIX are generally not sustained," Zlotnikov writes, "with 60% of the gains eroding after 4 days and almost 75% disappearing after a month."
So relish those stock mispricings -- if not the fearful feelings themselves -- while they last.
Also on Fortune.com:
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After rising through the first 10 months of 2010, the average municipal bond fund has lost 3% in just the past month, according to TrimTabs. Some funds have lost 10% or more this fall, as the long bull market in Treasury debt has come up lame MOREColin Barr - Dec 17, 2010 7:05 AM ET
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Market-based anxiety measures have crept steadily higher over the past month, reflecting a marked shift in investor psychology. Less than two years after governments made promises totaling trillions of dollars to prop up the financial system, fears that Europe's banks will fall ill are pummeling the markets again.
Libor, the rate at which highly rated banks borrow from one another on an MOREColin Barr - May 25, 2010 10:10 AM ET
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