European Equities Outlook: Short-Term Pain, Long-Term Gain
Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Graham Secker, Head of Morgan Stanley's European Equity Strategy Team. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about the outlook for European equities in the second half of this year. It's Tuesday, June 13th at 2 p.m. in London.
After a record burst of outperformance between October and March, European equities have started to underperform their international peers over the last couple of months, and we think this is likely to continue over the summer for two reasons.
Firstly, the European economy seems to be losing some momentum, with many of the region's leading economic indicators turning back down over the last month or so. Now, while the magnitude of their reversal is small so far in absolute terms, the European Economic Surprise Index, which tracks how the data comes in relative to expectations, has fallen much more sharply and is now close to a ten year low. We think this is an important development, as this index is often a good lead indicator for future earnings and hence is now pointing to downside risks ahead for corporate profitability in Europe.
The second factor starting to drag on Europe's relative performance, is the strong rally in growth stocks that we are seeing globally. While Europe has its own fair share of such companies, its tech weight overall remains considerably below that of most other regions. For example, tech is at about 7% of the European equity market versus 13% for Asia and over 30% for the U.S.. Quite simply, the size of this differential makes it difficult for Europe to keep pace with other regions when growth stocks are outperforming more broadly, such as now.
While these two factors are likely to weigh on Europe's relative performance in the near term, we also see downside risks to broader global equity indices over the summer, given the potential for slowing growth and deteriorating liquidity dynamics in both the US and Europe. Taken together, we think these headwinds could see European equities fall by up to 10% over the next few months. Given this backdrop, we have further increased our preference for defensives over cyclicals, by upgrading pharmaceuticals to overweight, to sit alongside telecoms and utilities in our most preferred list. In contrast, we remain underweight cyclical sectors such as autos, capital goods, chemicals and energy. From a style perspective, we think it is too soon to take profits in the growth sectors and hence remain positive on the likes of luxury goods, medtech, semis and software.
The biggest change to our view recently has become more downbeat on the outlook for European financials, which we think fits a, "right place but wrong time narrative". Specifically, while the sector looks attractive from a bottom up perspective in terms of low valuations, strong balance sheets and healthy earnings trends, we think the top down macro environment has become more challenging as we near the end of the current rate hiking cycle and with the prospect of slower economic growth and lower bond yields ahead.
Notwithstanding our near-term caution, however, we are more positive on European stocks over the longer term, given the backdrop of what we think will ultimately be relatively resilient earnings and low equity valuations. For example, Europe's price to earnings ratio is now down to just 12.5 times versus the U.S. at close to 18 times. Looking out further on a 12 month view, our models suggest 8% price upside from here, which would rise closer to 12% if we include dividends and buybacks. So, when we put all of the above together, we think the outlook for European stocks is perhaps best described as one of short term pain, but for longer term gain.
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