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Stressed about US stocks, investors are betting big on Europe

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By Ksenia Galouchko and William Shaw

For money managers nervous about US equities at all-time highs during an economic crisis and election year, Europe could be the antidote.

Investors from BlackRock Inc. to Manulife Investment Management say the region’s coordinated and fast response to the pandemic is also a good reason to be confident, despite the fact that European stocks have stalled since early June.

The bullish mood on Europe can largely be viewed as a scramble for alternatives to the US, where equity valuations look stretched and China tensions are running high. The November election is also souring sentiment as President Donald Trump battles the Postal Service and stokes false claims of widespread election fraud.

“If you compare the upcoming event risks, Europe is a relatively calm economy compared to the US, UK and China,” said Peter Chatwell, head of multi-asset strategy at Mizuho International Plc.

Y35Bloomberg

A recent Bank of America Corp. survey of fund managers found Europe is now the most favored region and investors are holding the largest overweight in euro-area equities since 2018. The Vanguard FTSE Europe ETF has absorbed almost $500 million in August, putting it on track for the best month since January.

BlackRock Inc. raised its view on European equities to overweight in June, and cut allocations to the US

“We have seen a big rally in US large caps, so we are generally looking for a way to diversify,” said Kiran Ganesh, a managing director at UBS Global Wealth Management. “There are pockets of Europe that are good.”

All that optimism hasn’t revealed itself in prices yet. Stocks in Asia and the US have rallied near records, but the Europe Stoxx 600 Index is still about 15% away from pre-pandemic highs.

Y36Bloomberg

Even though there’s plenty of enthusiasm for Europe, it doesn’t necessarily mean investors will be right. Predictions for a catch-up rally have repeatedly failed over the years, and an uptick in virus cases and travel restrictions threaten an already fragile economic recovery.

Still, investors say the market is cheap and data shows European stocks poised for a faster profit rebound. According to Bloomberg estimates, earnings growth among Stoxx 600 companies will be 36% in 2021, compared with 24% for the S&P 500.

Some strategists are also citing the euro as a possible bullish catalyst, saying the rally could level off and lessen pressure on exporter earnings. Rabobank says it’ll be tough for the currency to breach $1.20 given the risk of further lockdowns in Europe and sluggish economic data. The bank expects the euro to soften to $1.16 this year, down from $1.18, according to Jane Foley, head of FX strategy.

“There is a perception that Europe on the whole has done a better job managing the Covid crisis, and sentiment that US asset prices are stretched leading up to an uncertain election cycle,” said Nathan Thooft, Manulife Investment Management’s head of global asset allocation.

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