Graham Secker: An Upturn for European Equities

4m ·

Graham Secker: An Upturn for European Equities

European equities have been outperforming U.S. stocks. What’s driving the rally, and will it continue?

-- Transcript --

Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Graham Sacker, Head of Morgan Stanley's European Equity Strategy Team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the recent outperformance of European equities and whether this could be the start of a longer upturn. It's Thursday, January the 26th at 4 p.m. in London. 

After a tricky period through last summer, the fourth quarter of 2022 saw European equities enjoy their best period of outperformance over U.S. stocks in over 30 years. Such was the size of this rally that MSCI Europe ended last year as the best performing region globally in dollar terms for the first time since 2000. In addition, the relative performance of Europe versus U.S. stocks has recently broken above its hundred week moving average for the first time since the global financial crisis. We do not think this latter event necessarily signals the start of a multi-year period of European outperformance going forward, however we do think it marks the end of Europe's structural underperformance that started in 2008. 

When we analyze the drivers behind Europe's recent rally, we can identify four main catalysts. Firstly, the economic news flow is holding up better in Europe than the U.S., with traditional leading indicators such as the purchasing managers surveys stabilizing in Europe over the last few months, but they continue to deteriorate in the U.S. Secondly, European gas prices continue to fall. After hitting nearly $300 last August, the price of gas is now down into the $60's and our commodity strategist Martin Rats, forecasts it falling further to around $20 later this year. Thirdly, Europe is more geared to China than the U.S., both economically and also in terms of corporate profits. For example, we calculate that European companies generate around 8% of their sales from China, versus just 4% for U.S. corporates. And then lastly, companies in Europe have enjoyed better earnings revisions trends than their peers in the U.S., and that does tend to correlate quite nicely with relative price performance too. 

The one factor that has not contributed to Europe's outperformance is fund flows, with EPFR data suggesting that European mutual fund and ETF flows were negative for each of the last 46 weeks of 2022. A consistency and duration of outflows we haven't seen in 20 years, a period that includes both the global financial crisis and the eurozone sovereign debt crisis. 

While the pace of recent European equity outperformance versus the U.S. is now tactically looking a bit stretched, improving investor sentiment towards China and still low investor positioning to Europe should continue to provide support. In addition, European equities remain very inexpensive versus their U.S. peers across a wide variety of metrics. For example, Europe trades at a 29% discount to the U.S. on a next 12 month price to earnings ratio of less than 13 versus over 17 for the S&P. 

European company attitudes to buybacks have also started to change over the last few years, such that we saw a record $220 billion of net buyback activity in 2022, nearly double the previous high from 2019. At 1.7%. Europe's net buyback yield does still remain below the U.S. at around 2.6%. However, when we combine dividends and net buybacks together, we find that Europe now offers a higher total yield than the U.S. for the first time in over 30 years. 

For those investors who are looking to add more Europe exposure to their portfolios, first we are positive on luxury goods and semis. Two sectors in Europe that should be beneficiaries of improving sentiment towards China, and our U.S. strategists forecast that U.S. Treasury yields are likely to move down towards 3%. A move lower in yields should favor the longer duration growth stocks, of which luxury and semis are two high profile ones in Europe. Secondly, we continue to like European banks, given a backdrop of attractive valuations, high cash returns and superior earnings revisions. Third, we prefer smaller mid-caps over large caps given that the former traditionally outperform post a peak in inflation and in periods of euro currency strength. Our FX strategists expect euro dollar to rise further to 115 later this year. 

The bottom line for us is that we think there is a good chance that the recent outperformance of Europe versus U.S. equities can continue as we move through the first half of 2023. 

Thanks for listening. If you enjoy the show, please leave us a review on Apple Podcasts and share Thoughts on the Market with a friend or colleague today. 

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