The new eurozone panic

Investors are panicking over the latest episode in the eurozone crisis. But as John Stepek explains, Europe is still a buy.

Markets finally have something else to panic about other than the plunging oil price. Greece might be ready to walk out on Europe again.

The threat of another eurozone eruption (particularly now that deflation has taken hold region-wide prices fell by 0.2% year-on-year in December) has sent the euro to a nine-year low against the dollar. Even the apparently unstoppable US S&P 500 market had a grim start to the year, experiencing its longest losing streak since the end of 2013.

Yet our writers Matthew Lynn, James Ferguson and Tim Price all back Europe as a top tip for 2015. And I have to say I agree.

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In short, if Greece stays, a relief rally ensues. If Greece goes, both Germany and the European Central Bank (ECB) have all the excuse they need to flood the rest of Europe with printed money to stop any panic in its tracks.

There might be a fair bit of eurozone panic between now and the eventual resolution, but if you're a long-term investor with an eye for value, Europe looks good.

I've always liked Italy accessible via the iShares FTSE MIB (LSE: IMIB) tracker but for broader access, there's the TR European Growth Trust (LSE: TRG), which focuses on smaller companies and currently trades on a discount of around 12.5%.

But any sensible contrarian always questions their assumptions so what could upset our cosy consensus? Clearly, there's a risk that Greece leaves the euro (or is pushed out) and markets don't take it in their stride at all.

Perhaps a queue of countries, all eager to get out and default on their debt in the process, would line up. That really would be Europe's "Lehman Brothers" moment.

But while the eurozone's internal contradictions make it hard to see how it can survive in the very long term, the political will gluing it together has consistently been underestimated by commentators in the US and the UK and I think that's still the case.

A bigger threat might come from a half-hearted effort at QE. What if Germany allows ECB president Mario Draghi to do a bit of QE but not as much as the markets want?

As US investor Doug Kass notes, that would reveal Draghi as nothing more than a bluffer, and destroy investors' faith in the inevitability and power of eurozone QE and perhaps even central bankers in general.

It's a good point, and a more convincing scenario. But it's hard to believe that a canny poker player like Draghi would commit himself to a clearly inadequate QE programme without any prospect for more.

That said, if you think we're wrong on Europe, there are many other opportunities for 2015 Japan, a perennial MoneyWeek favourite, is still popular with our experts, while Tom Bulford and Dr Mike Tubbs reckon the biotech bull market will continue. Take a look at all their forecasts.

John Stepek

John is the executive editor of MoneyWeek and writes our daily investment email, Money Morning. John graduated from Strathclyde University with a degree in psychology in 1996 and has always been fascinated by the gap between the way the market works in theory and the way it works in practice, and by how our deep-rooted instincts work against our best interests as investors.

He started out in journalism by writing articles about the specific business challenges facing family firms. In 2003, he took a job on the finance desk of Teletext, where he spent two years covering the markets and breaking financial news. John joined MoneyWeek in 2005.

His work has been published in Families in Business, Shares magazine, Spear's Magazine, The Sunday Times, and The Spectator among others. He has also appeared as an expert commentator on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, BBC Radio Scotland, Newsnight, Daily Politics and Bloomberg. His first book, on contrarian investing, The Sceptical Investor, was released in March 2019. You can follow John on Twitter at @john_stepek.