Don't look now, but the investment world is warming up to Europe. "There are a few blooms sticking up from the frozen ground," says Steve Koenig, an analyst at Wedbush Morgan Securities. Over at BlackRock, Chief Investment Officer, Nigel Bolton, believes that we've reached "a significant turning point for equity investors [in Europe]." Credit Suisse is a believer, too. The investment giant recently instructed investors to overweight European banks in their portfolios. Same goes for JPMorgan. Equity strategists at the firm now expect Europe to enjoy better growth in the second half of the year.
Talk about fashionably late.
You'll recall I've been banging the contrarian drum on Europe for the better part of the year, recommending the SPDR EURO STOXX 50 Fund (FEZ). And about one month ago, I also urged you to take advantage of a once-in-a-30-year buying opportunity in European bank stocks via the iShares MSCI Europe Financials ETF (EUFN). But I'm not here today to establish bragging rights. Instead, I'm here to provide a safe way for skittish investors (i.e., the non-contrarians) to take advantage of the opportunity in Europe before it disappears.
As Thanos Papasavvas at Investec Asset Management notes, "[Europe is] very underinvested from a global-investor perspective." But that won’t be the case for long. Here's why.
Follow the Stock Market's Lead
Make no mistake, we're witnessing a data-driven -- and, therefore, legitimate -- change of heart on the part of Wall Street analysts when it comes to Europe. You see, the economy (and currency) -- which was once on the brink of complete and utter disaster -- is finally on the road to recovery. Case in point: the latest reading of the Eurozone PMI Composite Output Index. Any reading above 50 indicates expansion. And it just checked in at 50.4 in July -- the highest reading in 18 months.
The data underscores the European Commission's expectation that the eurozone economies will return to growth in the fourth quarter.
I'll concede that a GDP growth estimate of 1.4% in 2014 isn't China-esque. But growth is growth. And it's a definitive sign that Europe isn't going to fade to black. Of course, as I've long contested, we only need conditions to transition from "bad" to "less bad" for equity markets to respond. That's happening. And stocks are responding right on cue.
Over the last month, European stocks are up 8.2% -- nearly doubling the return of U.S. stocks. And European bank stocks are performing even better. After hitting a series of higher lows in late June, the iShares MSCI Europe Financials ETF rallied 9.9% in July. Now, if you're still too scared to dip your toes in Europe via one of these ETFs, you can still benefit from the imminent turnaround -- with a homegrown opportunity, no less.
Built Ford Tough
Back in May, I introduced a brilliant stock indicator based on Ford (F) F-150 trucks. In short, since small business owners account for a large portion of pickup sales, by gauging sales of F-Series trucks we can track the health of the overall economy. And Ford is certainly firing on all cylinders in the United States. Pickup sales, in particular, keep climbing higher. All told, Ford is going to enjoy its best sales year in the United States since the recession hit.
Conditions in Europe haven't been so rosy. But, again, the data points to an imminent turnaround. During the company's quarterly report last week, management noted that European operations still incurred a loss. However, results improved quarter over quarter and year over year. In other words, the bottom is in. More importantly, Ford has been able to increase its market share in Europe through the downturn. So as the recovery takes root -- and its European operations return to profitability -- the company should rake in even more revenue.
Bottom line: Ford represents a unique, safe and cheap way (shares trade for less than 12 times earnings) to profit from a continued recovery in the United States -- and the imminent rebound in Europe. So I'll pay homage to Jeff Foxworthy and say it again -- you might be a redneck if you drive a pickup. But you'd be a pretty darn smart redneck if you also owned a few hundred shares of Ford.