Bullish on Western Europe
I spend a great deal of my professional life travelling around deVere Group’s Western Europe offices and, like many committed observers, I have over the last quarter noticed an undeniable sense that the continent is recovering, re-energising, and very much open for business.
It is almost palpable. You can notice it, as I have during my recent travels, in airports where the lounges are full of international executives discussing strategic plans for the future; you can see it on planes where the business and first class cabins are nearly always at full capacity; and you know times are certainly picking up when the best hotels and fine restaurants in any given city are turning clients away.
This sentiment of renewed optimism and confidence across Western Europe, I believe, heralds a major turning point. There can be no denying that activity in Europe has been quieter over the last couple of years, compared to other global markets which have been less affected by external economic factors and industry trends that have combined to create a tougher environment.
But we’ve now moved forward through the transition and stabilisation period and the lifeblood, it would seem, is once again surging through the so-called Old Continent’s veins.
It is a view echoed by teams I’ve spoken with from deVere United Kingdom, deVere Germany, deVere Switzerland, deVere Spain, deVere Italia and deVere France. Indeed, they all share one common observation: following the rather relatively sluggish movement of business throughout Europe in recent times, there are definite signs of solid, robust growth and increasing investor confidence and a greater appetite for risk.
Positive outlook on Europe
The official statistics support the anecdotal evidence. Economic activity began to stabilise during the fourth quarter of last year, with an average 1 per cent growth rate anticipated for 2014 as austerity goes into decline, and demand for European exports from the rest of the world increases.
However, not all countries within the EU are experiencing the same rate of growth. A consequence of the recovery in the northern ‘core’ economies is that it is helping the southern ‘peripheral’ economies boost their exports. Together with a reduced consumption of imports (as a result of recession) it means that we are seeing countries such as Greece and Spain now running current account surpluses, that’s to say they are paying for themselves in the world, albeit at the price of having smaller economies.
Overall I am optimistic that the region is set for recovery, and that from an investor’s point of view euro zone stock markets offer a large number of recovery plays on fair valuations.
So what’s next for the eurozone? Well, I wholeheartedly believe that Europe is back on the road to success. The PMI expanded at a faster rate than expected, investors are taking a significantly more bullish approach for the first time in years. A recent rise in eurozone inflation has seen the European Central Bank delaying further monetary easing, which has subsequently led to a stronger euro. Trading levels are up and the number of mergers and acquisitions in the EU are also growing.
I am tremendously optimistic and excited that Western Europe is now once again flourishing and regaining its pre-crisis prominence.