Could the stock market be gearing up for another ‘Fed freakout’?

Getty Images Traders work the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Getty Images
Traders work the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

As stocks drift quietly ahead of the 2 p.m. ET Fed minutes, some traders are already anticipating a hawkish tone and the potential for a negative market reaction.

In what it calls a “freakout,” Bespoke points out that the stock market has reacted negatively to the Fed releases in 2013 and 2014 as traders viewed them as more hawkish than expected. It says these overreactions have usually resulted in a recovery the next day.

“If the experience of 2013 and early 2014 is any indication, equities could be in for a bit of a ‘Fed Minute Freakout’ following the 2PM release, ” Bespoke said in a note. “While the S&P 500 has seen mixed intra-day returns leading up to the release of the minutes, it has declined an average of 33 bps from the time of the release through the closing bell with positive (and minimal) returns only twice. Additionally, on all but one day (7/10/13), the S&P 500’s ‘pre-release’ performance was stronger than the performance after,” it added.

Date Pr Close – Release Release – Close Entire Day Next Day
S&P 500 Percent Change (%)
1/3/13 0.17 -0.38 -0.21 0.49
2/20/13 -0.53 -0.72 -1.24 -0.63
4/10/13 1.20 0.02 1.22 0.36
5/22/13 -0.03 -0.79 -0.83 -0.29
7/10/13 -0.12 0.14 0.02 1.36
8/21/13 -0.24 -0.34 -0.58 0.86
10/9/13 0.25 -0.19 0.06 2.18
11/20/13 0.15 -0.51 -0.36 0.81
1/8/14 0.00 -0.02 -0.02 0.03
2/19/14 -0.12 -0.53 -0.65 0.603
Average: 0.07 -0.33 -0.26 0.58

The minutes expected Wednesday afternoon are from the March 19 meeting, the first chaired by Fed Chair Janet Yellen. The Fed decided to continue tapering its quantitative easing program at that meeting, as expected. Yellen’s post-meeting comment that day, however, rocked the market.

She told a press briefing that the Fed could start hiking rates six months after ending the QE bond purchases. The minutes, however, are not expected to be explicit about the timing or even be very dramatic at all.

“The key reason behind the market’s negative reaction to the Fed Minutes since the start of 2013 have been concerns that the minutes portrayed a Fed that was more hawkish than previously thought,” said Bespoke. “Whether it was fears of the taper (in 2013) or the timeline for hiking rates (2014), investors are clearly uneasy with the thought of the Fed becoming less accommodative and need to be eased off slowly.”

Bespoke also points out the market quickly recovered the day after the releases, with gains eight of 10 times and the S&P gaining an average 0.58 percent.

—By CNBC’s Patti Domm. Follow her on Twitter @pattidomm.

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