Wracked by the migrant crisis, resurgent nationalist sentiments and a sluggish regional economy, Europe has been on a tough slog to growth for a few years. According to United Nations estimates, more than a million migrants crossed into Europe in 2015 alone, fueling the rise of nationalist parties such as the anti-E.U., anti-immigrant Freedom Party in Austria.
Last week, Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer came with a hair’s breadth of winning that Austria’s presidential election. While the Austrian presidency is a largely ceremonial office, the fact that Hofer polled so well shows growing frustration with the economic union.
The referendum due in a few weeks on whether or not the United Kingdom will remain a part of the E.U. – otherwise known as the Brexit – is also a reflection of frustration with the E.U. Backers of the Brexit feel that their country is being held back by its E.U. membership, paying billions of pounds to the E.U. while realizing little benefit and getting saddled with immigrants. The opposition holds that a Brexit could potentially wreck the British economy, severing ties that allow for the relatively free flow of goods back and forth across the channel.
If it sounds like Europe is a bit of a mess, that’s because it is.
We should care because the European Union is our largest trading partner, with total trade amounting to about $700 billion annually. A healthy Europe means a stronger market for our goods and services. And subscribers to Global Income Edge should care particularly, because our Conservative and Aggressive portfolios (currently yielding 4% and 5.5% on average, respectively) contain 11 European stocks—some of which yield more than 10%.
Whatever our perceptions from the outside may be, the average European is actually pretty optimistic about their economic prospects. The Economic Sentiment Indicator (ESI), which measures consumer and business confidence in the 19 country Eurozone, rose from 104.0 in April to 104.7 in May. When broadened out to include all 28 E.U. countries, the reading rose from 105.2 to 105.7.
While those sound like small moves, any reading over 100 indications above-average expectations. Considering everything that’s been going on in Europe, the fact that the readings were already above-average and are still moving higher reflects pretty strong optimism.
There is such a thing as sentiment-led recessions, when consumers and businesses are so worried about a recession they hold off on spending, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. When confidence is high, rough patches can be smoothed over if spending and investment remain high, which is basically what happened in France in the first quarter. That country’s economy grew at a better-then-expected 0.6% thanks to strong spending and investment.
That’s good news for investors in Europe, since that strong confidence helps to propel markets higher. Most European stock indexes have been powering higher since hitting bottom back in February, despite lingering issues like the Brexit. And with the European Central Bank expected to continue backstopping the region’s economy with easy money, even signaling that it will do more if necessary, it’s likely that European stocks will continue moving higher.
That also bodes well for Global Income Edge’s European stock holdings: when spending is high, business profits are stable-to-up, which supports dividend growth.
While consumer sentiment can and does change, so far it looks as though you don’t have to worry if you have money at work in Europe.