Since the Great Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008-2009, one of the few places to find return on capital was in the U.S. equity markets. Many other markets, including Europe, have been a hot mess since the GFC abated and U.S. Markets bottomed in March, 2009. Don’t get me wrong, you could’ve made money in European stocks from 2009-2014, but not at the same pace as in U.S. markets. For example, in 2013, while U.S. stocks were breaking the highs from 2007 and recording new 13-year-highs, European stocks were still 20% below their 2007 highs. We can clearly see this underperformance in the chart below.
It’s not a matter of opinion that European stocks underperformed for the last 8 years. Charts don’t lie. If you wanted to be part of strongly upward trending markets and generate return, you should have been in U.S. stocks. That may be about to change. Over the past few months, we’ve seen two important developments take shape which would underpin Europe’s potential outperformance over U.S. equities. The first, and possibly most significant development, is the recent breakout of the Financial Times Stock Exchange (FTSE). One of the world’s largest exchanges has broken out to new all-time-highs. The last time we checked, all-time-highs are not a characteristic of downtrends. Check it out.
After 17 years of going everywhere yet nowhere, the London Financial Times Index broke out to new highs in December 2016. This took place after financial media outlets told us the Brexit vote was a disaster. Rare was the pundit who thought the UK leaving the European Union was a positive development. Since then, the FTSE has rallied 25%. Markets know more than we do. And they certainly know more than the financial media. The break above 7000 on this important index should be respected. The longer we stay above that level, the more significant this move is. When there is enough demand to push prices out of a 17-year base, we should take heed. From wide bases come high spaces. The first initial upward target is 8000. If it can surpass that level, 10500 is on the table. A retest of 7000 is always possible. We’ll know this thesis is wrong if FTSE drops back below 6800.
The second development of the past few months is the improvement in European Financials. Without this important sector, it would be hard for Europe to muster a rally worth participating in. Higher prices in European Financial stocks bode well for Europe overall. Here’s the hard data:
Never discount coincidence. The “disastrous” Brexit vote marked a four-year low for European Financials, confirming a good-looking divergence between momentum (using 14-period RSI) and price. This is classic reversal behavior. Just when the media and investors think they have it figured out, sellers become exhausted with only buyers remaining. Similarly, the media frenzy over Deutsch Bank marked the beginning of a breakout from a downtrend (annotated with green downtrend line). As market participants, we need to turn off the TV and log off of financial media websites. Focus on price instead. It’s the only thing that pays. We don’t make money in the market by how many financial media articles we read or pundits we listen to. We make money by making decisions based on the economic law of supply and demand. More supply than demand, price goes down. More demand than supply, price goes up. Price knows everything we need to know. It pays to use it to make decisions.
When we look at European stocks using an ETF that tracks the S&P European 350 Index (ticker: IEV), we see it breaking out on an absolute basis. Back in early 2017, IEV broke through an important level of supply near the 39-40 handle.
The longer IEV can stay above 40, the better. The next level of resistance comes into play near the solid green trendline. There’s no reason to be involved with this one below $39.
From a relative strength perspective, IEV still has work to do when comparing it against the S&P 500 (proxy: SPY). Looking at the daily ratio chart of IEV:SPY, the downtrend in relative strength is obvious. This chart only goes back 1.5 years, but the downtrend versus the S&P 500 has been ongoing since 2008.
The ratio low in early March established a higher low above the December 2016 low. That’s a start, but not too exciting until the green down trendline is breached. A break above that level increases the likelihood of establishing a higher high above February’s high. That would confirm a change in trend.
In summary, nothing is guaranteed, but the aforementioned weight-of-evidence is compelling. Not just for high prices in European stocks, but for outperformance over U.S. stocks. Something investors haven’t seen in over eight years.
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Disclaimer: Nothing in this article should be construed as investment advice or a solicitation to buy or sell a security. You invest based on your own decisions. Everything in this post is meant for educational and entertainment purposes only. I or my affiliates may hold positions in securities mentioned in the blog. Please see my Disclosure page for full disclaimer.