Easy Money in Europe Helps Stocks

While the U.S. market is being roiled by fears that our economy is slowing, Europe is faring surprisingly well despite a report that there was a bit of deflation in September. Data shows prices actually fell by 0.1% in the month, though if volatile energy prices are excluded, inflation is was at a 1% annual rate. And Europe’s GDP is weak – at an annual rate less than 0.5%.

Yet despite Europe’s troubles, its stock market is doing better than ours. The American economy grew by 0.6% in the first quarter and 3.9% in the second, and our own Dow Jones Industrials index is down 9.8% so far this year. The Euro Stoxx 50 index, which tracks European blue chips, has declined just 1.9%. In fact, most of the European bourses are performing better than our own, despite the growth disparity. So, what’s the difference?

While our own Federal Reserve has effectively halted its program of quantitative easing (QE) – buying primarily government bonds in the market to boost asset prices – the European’s own version QE is still going strong. The European Central Bank (ECB) has been buying $67.37 billion) of assets a month since March, in a bid to boost inflation in the region. ECB chief Mario Draghi has also said that if the current level of QE doesn’t do the trick and European inflation fails to reach its 2% target by 2017, the bank could boost or extend the program.

While a lot of economists don’t think QE is a particularly good idea, stoking bad inflation and creating asset bubbles, experience shows us that stock investors love it. Between November 2008 and October 2014, which covered three rounds of easing here in the United States, both the S&P 500 and the Dow more than doubled in value despite lackluster growth in the real economy. There’s little reason not to expect the same effect in Europe.

At the same time, European stocks were trading at multi-year lows just a year ago, so it wasn’t going to take much to get them moving higher. At the same time, the ECB has been maintaining the region’s benchmark interest rate at a record-low 0.05%, essentially forcing investors into the stock market and boosting prices. All of that should sound very familiar.

Our own experience is a big reason why we remain positive about European stocks, with several in our portfolios.


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