Europe's PIIGS are back and roaring. Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain (the PIIGS) have seen their stock markets rebound tremendously over the past year. While economic insecurity remains high, investors are flooding back into these once deserted markets deemed on the brink of financial Armageddon.
Fundamentally, the economies of the PIIGS are far from strong, yet their mere continued existence supports the argument for further growth. In preceding years, investors sold out of these countries due to the outright fear of financial default, socialist revolution, and the collapse of the Eurozone. With the proven German safety-net, it is unlikely the PIIGS will be slaughtered anytime soon. This downside protection will allow more global portfolio managers to return to the PIIGS and chase returns. Thus, Europe's staggering economy may provide ideal conditions for the adventurous and aggressive investor.
Below are several ETFs that provide exposure to the PIIGS.
Market Vectors Poland ETF (PLND)
3 Mths Performance: +1.01%
1Yr Performance: +36.46%
Believe it or not, one of the best ways to gain Portuguese exposure is through a Polish ETF (Portugal does not have its own). Mainly due to a stake in a Portuguese manufacturing company, Jeronimo Martins SGPS SA, the Market Vectors Poland ETF has a 5.1% exposure to Portugal. While a small country, the economic stability of Portugal is key to maintaining a reasonable level of peace in the eurozone. The fall of Portugal or one of the smaller European nations would undoubtedly be a catalyst for further tumultuous times.
Caveat Emptor: Politically, Portugal is still in a mess. Austerity has split the country apart and a battle over the country's September's budget has ensued. Rumors of a second bailout certainly have not helped build investor confidence.
iShares MSCI Italy Capped ETF (EWI)
3 Mths Performance: +2.1%
1Yr Performance: +37.9%
Since the golden age of the Venetian Empire, Italy's economy has struggled along in comparison to its northern neighbors. That being said, Italian companies have continued to produce quality items that are valued globally. With investor expectations more in line with reality, the iShares Italy Capped ETF has performed very well over the past year.
Caveat Emptor: It is important to note that Italy's unemployment continues to increase (now around 12%). The country's central bank recently came out with weaker-than expected forecasts.
iShares MSCI Ireland Capped ETF (EIRL)
3 Mths Performance: +9.1%
1Yr Performance: +59.4%
Some call it the luck of the Irish. Others simply call it a fiscally responsible government. Coming from the depths of a long recession, Ireland is seeing a strong comeback. 1-year performance stands close to +60%. In addition, Ireland's economic fundamentals appear to be improving. The S&P recently upgraded its outlook on the nation's credit from "stable" to "positive."
Caveat Emptor: Ireland, once sporting a AAA credit rating, still has a long way to recovery. Moody's has continued to affirm its negative outlook and perhaps for good reason. In June, Ireland's Central Statistics Office officially reported that the country had fallen back into recession.
Global X FTSE Greece 20 ETF (GREK)
3 Mths Performance: -8.99%
1Yr Performance: +49.76%
While Greek's debt continues to balloon, the country's stocks have made a profound rally, up almost 50% in 1 year. The outright cheapness of Greek equity has the world's bottom-fishers very busy.
Caveat Emptor: Recent government job cuts have pushed Greece's unemployment levels to 27%. Youth jobless rates hit an astounding 64% in February. As history can attest, having a bunch of hungry jobless people sitting around is not good for political stability. Investor sentiment may also be shifting due to worse-than expected economic data and problems with the country's austerity program.
iShares MSCI Spain Capped Index (EWP)
3 Mths Performance: +1.2%
1Yr Performance: +53.3%
Surprisingly, Spain's economic data appears to be in line with Prime Minister Rajoy's claim that his country would exit its recession this quarter. Unemployment rates dipped about 1% to 26.3%. Spanish banks and telecom firms also have reported promising data, showing signs of a recovery.
Caveat Emptor: Spain's unemployment remains double to that of Italy's. With 1.8 million households with no one in work, one may only speculate the long-standing effects of such heightened unemployment.
While the PIIGS are still in an ugly state, performance of their ETFs speaks for itself. As investors have come to terms with lowered expectations and the noise of political infighting, the idea of investing with the PIIGS has become less risky. Unless economic conditions take a sharp turn for the worse, it is unlikely that bacon will be served anytime soon. For now, the PIIGS will continue to roar.