Don’t write off European stocks

The Eurozone economy may have slowed to a crawl, but a return to earnings growth has given investors in European stocks hope.

Is the eurozone at a turning point? The bloc’s GDP grew by just 0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2019, the slowest pace in almost seven years, says Elliot Smith for CNBC. Weak German manufacturing has weighed on wider performance and the coronavirus is more bad news for an economy where exports account for roughly 45% of GDP. Yet better survey data and sentiment indicators since the new year suggest that the slump could be bottoming out. 

Fabio Balboni of HSBC points out that German wage growth has hit a 20-year high and unemployment is falling across the eurozone, so consumption could be in for a pick-up. That mildly positive outlook is buttressed by extremely loose monetary policy from the European Central Bank, which has cut interest rates and started buying bonds again last September.

For investors the most encouraging sign is a return to earnings growth. European businesses averaged around a 5% contraction in earnings per share during the first three quarters of 2019, according to Morgan Stanley. Yet the fourth-quarter earnings season looks encouraging, with earnings per share on track to rise 2.1% year on year.

And there may be better news ahead. Germany’s January Purchasing Managers’ Index expanded at it quickest pace in five months, reports Michael Searles for City AM. Throw in reasonable valuations, and the region’s equities are hardly a write-off. 

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