Now up 17% YTD, the Stoxx Europe 600 this week had its highest close since 2000, and is just 1% shy of its all-time high hit in March 2000.
The big move has early-year bulls like Goldman Sachs and Citigroup scrambling to lift their year-end targets.
"There’s something much more sustainable here,” says a strategist in London. “Sentiment was bearish in the eurozone for a long, long time. It’s just starting to change.” Indeed. Recent BAML fund manager surveys show bullishness on European stocks has reached uncharted territory.
Euro-Zone GDP failed to grow in the second quarter following 12 months of weak growth, causing European equity markets to fall and increasing pressure on the ECB to do more to boost growth and inflation.
Data released this morning by the European Union's statistics office translates into 0.2% growth in annualized terms, down from the first quarter's 0.8% pace.
The euro zone's three largest economies, which account for two-thirds of the region's €9.6T ($12.8T) GDP, all did not post any growth. German GDP shrank 0.2% from the first quarter and Italy's output fell at a similar pace. The French economy, the bloc's second largest behind Germany, stagnated for a second straight quarter.
The region's next largest economies, Spain and the Netherlands, posted some growth but not enough to offset their larger peers.
The Stoxx 50 (FEZ) is up 0.8% after being about flat ahead of the ECB rate decision, at which the central bank cut all three of its benchmark rates, including taking the deposit facility rate into negative territory.
Italy (EWI) with a 1.3% gain and France (EWQ) ahead 1% lead the way.
The euro (FXE) tumbles about 40 pips, now off 0.3% on the session and buying $1.3563.
Europe is the "largest emerging market in the world," says Carlyle's (CG -1%) David Rubenstein, holding court at the SALT conference in Vegas. The old East-West divide, he says, is now a North-South divide, but overall things are in "reasonable shape," and the pricing is attractive.
Asked about David Tepper's nervousness, Rubenstein allows there's a bit of froth in markets, and notes half the deals getting done right now are P-E firms selling to each other. Prices aren't necessarily through the roof, but leverage is being ratcheted up.
"Investors are all aboard the periphery train, and there's now simply no margin for error," says BAML's Obe Ejikeme, commenting on his firm's fund manager survey for May. A net 36% of the respondents say they're overweight eurozone stocks, up from 30% in April, with the equities of Spain (EWP) and Italy (EWI) are preferred to those in the core.
Ejikeme also calls long bets in EU periphery debt the most crowded traded globally. Indeed. Spanish 10-year debt is now priced to yield 2.93%, Italy 2.97%, Ireland 2.67%. As comparison, U.S. 10-year Treasurys yield 2.63%.
The odds of unsterilized large-scale asset purchases - i.e., LSAPs, i.e., QE - from the ECB have pushed past 50:50 says Citi;s Guillaume Menuet, and the program could begin as early as September.
How? Citi's team expects the ECB to buy both public and private-asset classes, with a majority likely to be things like sovereign bonds. As for size, Citi sees a bare minimum being €1T. This compares to the BoE's £375B program and the Fed's current pace (amid the taper) of $55B per month.
Don't look for action before September, though, says Menuet, as the ECB will likely wait and see if easing at the June meeting begins to do the trick of bringing inflation back up towards its 2% target. Will it work? "While it will likely be on a scale large enough to excite financial markets, we are doubtful it will be on a scale large enough to transform the economic outlook from an extended period of low inflation and low interest rates.”
George Soros' "worst expectations" in regards to the EU have been "fulfilled," he says, and the bloc faces 25 years of Japanese-style stagnation. While Japan - being one nation - has survived, the EU may not.
Soros naturally blames the creditors (i.e., the Germans), and finds it alarming that the EU's banks - when they should be providing capital to boost growth - are instead hunkered down to try and pass the ECB stress test.
His comments come amid the launch of his latest book, "The Tragedy of the European Union."
The euro pops above $1.38 as Mario Draghi - in his post-ECB meeting press conference - gives no indication in the early-going of any consideration of further monetary ease. It had been thought declining inflation might prompt action, but Draghi calls the upside and downside risks to price developments broadly balanced over the medium-term.
Who could have thought raising interest rates 425 basis points would be bearish? A curious rally following Turkey's defense of the lira - it jacked rates to 12% from 7.75% - has completely reversed. One feels a 1992-like vibe where the Bank of England hiked like crazy to defend the pound, but then ultimately had to let it go (also creating a bottom in stocks).
In Europe, the Stoxx 50 (FEZ) is off 1.3%, with Turkey (TUR) now down 2.3%.
South Africa joins the party, unexpectedly hiking its benchmark interest rate by 50 basis points to 5.5%. EZA -2.8%.
A check of Brazil (EWZ -1.3%) and India (EPI -1.1%) - where monetary policy has also been tightened this week - finds them lower as well.
The money is flowing into U.S. Treasurys which continue a big 2014 rally. The 10-year yield is off five basis points to 2.71%. TLT +0.3%, TBT -0.5%.
The euro gives up sizable gains and turns lower and European stocks add to gains as Mario Draghi - at his post-ECB decision press conference - calls it too soon to declare victory over the eurozone crisis. The economy is recovering, but there are factors afoot which could undermine it - among them a falling inflation rate and a tightening in money markets. He reiterates the bank's intention to use all available instruments as necessary.
The euro is down about 70 pips since he started speaking, now off 0.1% on the session and buying $1.3562. The Stoxx 50 is ahead by 0.7%.
As expected, Eurozone flash manufacturing PMI has edged up to a 29-month high of 51.5 in November from 51.3 in October.
However, services slipped to 50.9 from 51.6 and missed consensus of 51.9.
Composite output declined to 51.5 from 51.9 and fell short of forecasts of 52.
Manufacturing output edged down to 52.8 from 52.9.
"It looks like momentum is being lost again," says Markit. "Deflationary forces may be gathering," while growth outside the "big two" of Germany and France "slowed to near-stagnation." French activity actually contracted.
Overall, the data is indicating that eurozone GDP will rise a "very modest 0.2%" in Q4, says Markit. The second-successive fall in PMI "suggests that the ECB was correct to cut interest rates to a record low at its last meeting."