Stressed about US stocks, investors are betting big on Europe

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LONDON – For money managers nervous about US equities at all-time highs during an economic crisis and election year, could be the antidote.

from BlackRock to Manulife Investment Management say the region’s coordinated and fast response to the pandemic is also a good reason to be confident, despite the fact that European have stalled since early June.

The bullish mood on Europe can largely be viewed as a scramble for alternatives to the United States, where equity valuations look stretched and China tensions are running high.

The November election is also souring sentiment as President Donald Trump battles the Postal Service and stokes false claims of widespread election fraud.

“If you compare the upcoming event risks, Europe is a relatively calm economy compared to the US, UK and China,” said Mr Peter Chatwell, head of multi-asset strategy at Mizuho International.

A recent Bank of America survey of fund managers found Europe is now the most favoured region and investors are holding the largest overweight in euro-area equities since 2018.

The Vanguard FTSE Europe ETF has absorbed almost US$500 million (S$685.8 million) in August, putting it on track for the best month since January.

BlackRock raised its view on European equities to overweight in June, and cut allocations to the US.

“We have seen a rally in US large caps, so we are generally looking for a way to diversify,” said UBS Global Wealth Management managing director Kiran Ganesh.

“There are pockets of Europe that are good.”

All that optimism hasn’t revealed itself in prices yet. Stocks in Asia and the US have rallied near records, but the Europe Stoxx 600 Index is still about 15 per cent away from pre-pandemic highs.

Even though there’s plenty of enthusiasm for Europe, it doesn’t necessarily mean investors will be right.

Predictions for a catch-up rally have repeatedly failed over the years, and an uptick in virus cases and travel restrictions threaten an already fragile economic recovery.

Still, investors say the market is cheap and data shows European stocks poised for a faster profit rebound.

According to Bloomberg estimates, earnings growth among Stoxx 600 companies will be 36 per cent in 2021, compared with 24 per cent for the S&P 500.

Some strategists are also citing the euro as a possible bullish catalyst, saying the rally could level off and lessen pressure on exporter earnings.

Rabobank says it’ll be tough for the currency to breach US$1.20 given the risk of further lockdowns in Europe and sluggish economic data. The bank expects the euro to soften to US$1.16 this year, down from US$1.18, according to head of FX strategy Jane Foley.

“There is a perception that Europe on the whole has done a better job managing the Covid crisis, and sentiment that US asset prices are stretched leading up to an uncertain election cycle,” said Mr Nathan Thooft, Manulife Investment Management’s head of global asset allocation.

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