Each week, a professional investor tells MoneyWeek where he'd put his money now. This week:Jean Maigrot, European equity investment leader and portfolio manager, NewSmith.
Mario Draghi has launched the European Central Bank's (ECB) much-waited quantitative easing (QE). It wasn't the shock and awe QE that I think is needed to turn the eurozone around, but it was double what the market expected. We had remained long on Europe in the run-up to QE, including on banks such as ING and UniCredit. We have now trimmed that.
Of course, QE will help earnings growth somewhat. The euro is near a 12-year low against the dollar, helping Europe's exporters. Inflation is muted, aided by cheap oil.
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However, QE will do nothing to resolve the structural problems hurting the long-term competitiveness of the eurozone. In fact, lower sovereign bond yields will probably take the pressure off policymakers to reform labour markets, the pensions system, or to execute a proper banking union.
I also fear that the ECB's easing is just the latest round in a dangerous, drawn-out currency war, as rival central banks such as the Bank of Japan weaken their currencies to protect their exporters. QE only works if everyone takes part on a huge scale, as we saw in 2008. By the law of diminishing returns, €1.1trn just isn't going to cut it.
Investors in European stocks must also contend with rising political uncertainty possibly my biggest worry right now. Syriza's victory in the Greek election sets the stage for an almighty clash with the rest of Europe, if Alexis Tsipras makes good on his threat to pull back on austerity and write down the country's debt. If Greece's creditors in Brussels and Berlin do not offer concessions, Greece may be forced out of the euro.
Fund managers who argue that unwinding the currency union would be manageable (as Greece, after all, makes up just 1.3% of the eurozone economy) are wrong. A 'Grexit' would trigger market turmoil, as investors dump Greek bonds, and contagion spreads to the rest of Europe's periphery.
Of course, Angela Merkel may offer Tsipras concessions, such as another debt extension. But could governments in Spain and Italy really tell their own austerity-sick voters that they must fork out again to help Greece?
We could see a domino effect where other countries demand concessions. Syriza isn't the only populist political movement in Europe.In Spain, radical-left group Podemos is leading the polls, ahead of this year's general election.So we are avoiding Greece right now.
And while the cheap euro will help exporters, they are already battling a slowdown in China, which is why we are wary of holding luxury brands. We like innovators including tech and industrial stocks such as Alcatel-Lucent (France: ALU) because of the resilience of the telecoms equipment market. It also benefits from the stronger dollar.
We also like telecoms, such as Telefonica (Spain: TEF). We've noted rising European data consumption (4G), as well as good dynamics in Europe and Latin America, where underlying demand is improving and market consolidation is underway.
Peugeot (France: UG) also looks good. Management is clearly running the company for cash, even at the expense of short-term market-share losses. This shows they can protect pricing, and are also building a very strong position in China with local partner Dongfeng. In media, meanwhile, content is increasingly king. So ITV (LSE: ITV) could re-rate further, and it could also be a bid target, which would further boost the share price.
Jean Maigrot is European equity investment leader and portfolio manager at NewSmith.
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