Tag Archives: Europe

Stocks, ETFs Plunge as Italian Bonds Top 7%

If you had any hopes that Europe would get its act together and come up with a reasonable plan to deal with its debt crisis, I think it’s time to give the points to the cynics.

Italian bond yields spiked to 7.25% today on fears that Italy has replaced Greece as the next flash point in the European debt crisis. People were hoping Italy would be able to institute some austerity measures if Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi stepped down. However, news that Berlusconi had pledged to resign, and his insistence on elections instead of an interim government, instead sent markets reeling.

With Italian bonds hitting an all-time high since the euro’s 1999 introduction, they reached the same level that forced Greece, Ireland and Portugal to seek bailouts. This sent U.S. stocks plunging. The S&P 500 Index tumbled 47 points, or 3.7% to 1229.

The evaporation of investor confidence was clear by the movement of ETFs that track the Italian bond and equity markets. The PowerShares DB Italian Treasury Bond Futures ETN (ITLY) fell 3% to a new low of $17.38 and the PowerShares DB 3x Italian Treasury Bond Futures ETN (ITLT) sank 10.3% to $12.37. These ETNs measure the performance of a long position in Euro-BTP futures, whose underlying assets are Italian government debt with an original term of no longer than 16 years. The ITLT ETN provides leveraged exposure three times greater than the unleveraged bonds. They have expense ratios of 0.5% and 0.95% respectively. If you’re looking for a good way to short the Italian bond market, these offer a good proxy. Just be aware, the ETNs are unsecured debt notes subjected to Deutsche Bank’s credit risk.

After months of failed plans, it’s become apparent that the European politicians are unable to make the hard choices to avert a disaster and that this has all been a huge shell game to push the problem forward without actually doing anything. I think it’s time for people to get out of U.S. stocks. We’re in for another hard landing.

Other ways to take advantage of the clustercuss that I fear will soon envelope Europe are the iShares MSCI Italy Index Fund (EWI), which tracks about 85% of the Italian equity market, and the CurrencyShares Euro Trust (FXE), which offers U.S. investors a way to bet on the euro without trading on the foreign exchange markets. The MSCI Italy fund, which charges 0.54%, plummeted 9.4% to $12.30, while the Euro Trust, which charges 0.4%, fell 2% to $135.03.

With Berlusconi demanding new elections, he effectively leaves Italy leaderless at the depths of the crisis, bringing the country close to a breaking point.

Meanwhile, late Wednesday, Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou did officially quit, without naming a successor.

It’s hard to see things getting better soon. The market’s recent bounce gave most people an opportunity to get out of the market with some profits. I think it’s a good time to go to cash.

Hennessy Continues Cautious View on Economy

Even as the stock market surged on Thursday, Neil Hennessy, chairman and chief investment officer of the Hennessy Funds, continues to hold a cautious outlook for stocks and the economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 340 points Thursday, or 2.9%, to 12209, while the S&P 500 soared 43 points, or 3.4%, to 1285 after bondholders of European debt were browbeaten by politicians into accepting at 50% write-down to their Greek debt.

While the bondholders’ new Greek haircut removes one black cloud hanging over the markets, Hennessy believes there’s enough negativity in the U.S. economy to remain wary of the near future.

On Tuesday, Hennessy announced the rebalancing of his portfolio for his Focus 30 Fund. He screens for five variables, market cap between $1 billion and $10 billion, no foreign stocks, price-to-sales ratio below 1.5, growth in annual earnings, and stock price appreciation over last six months. This strategy has given the fund a 21.7% annualized return over the past three years, beating the S&P 500’s 17.4%. But over the past year the fund underperformed the index by 50 basis points to 10.37%, as of Oct. 27.

A closer look at the portfolio changes gives an idea of what Hennessy thinks will be the growth sectors next year. The biggest changes were consumer discretionary fell from 50% of the portfolio to 30%, while utilities jumped from 0% to 30%, and consumer staples from 0% to 10%. Meanwhile, financials, health care, and materials all fell to zero. With consumer discretionary down and utilities and consumer staples up this long-term growth mutual fund is so defensive it looks like they’ve battened down the hatches for a big storm.

Much like when I spoke with Hennessy a year ago, he continues to feel one of the biggest problems for business is the lack of leadership in Washington.

One of the biggest issues is that the Dodd-Frank regulations remain mostly unwritten. Without a clear understanding of what the government plans to do about new regulations, taxes, or the new healthcare plan, Hennessy says few companies are willing to hire. And with the presidential campaign picking up steam, he has little hope of clarity before the election.

With unemployment high, economic growth remains low, he added. Highlighting his sentiment is U.S. consumer confidence fell in August to its lowest level since March 2009. Also in August, investors pulled the most money out of mutual funds since October 2008, right after the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy.

With the yield on the Dow Jones Industrial Average at 2.9%, Hennessy says, just like last year, companies will focus on dividends, either initiating or increasing existing ones, as a way to drive their stock prices higher. Meanwhile, the Dogs of the Dow, the ten highest-yielding stocks in the Dow industrials, currently yield 4.1%, or 30% higher than the 3.2% yield on the 30-year U.S. Treasury Bond. The Hennessy Total Return Fund is a mutual fund that tracks the Dogs of the Dow strategy.

Hennessy says stocks are cheap because market fundamentals, such as price-to-sales, price-to-book, price-to-cash-flow and price-to-earnings, are significantly below their 5-year and 10-year averages. The market’s P/E ratio is currently a multiple of 13, compared to its 5-year average of 16.

If you want to focus on the two main sectors of the Focus 30 Fund check out the Utilities Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLU) or the Consumer Staple Select Sector SPDR ETF (XLP).

Five good ETFs for dividend investing:
SPDR S&P Dividend ETF (SDY)
WisdomTree Emerging Markets Equity Income Fund (DEM)
iShares S&P U.S. Preferred Stock Index Fund (PFF)
First Trust DJ Global Select Dividend Index Fund (FGD)
Guggenheim Multi-Asset Income ETF (CVY)

For my full analysis of these five ETFs go to Kiplinger.com.

Europe’s Financial Crisis Sends U.S. Stocks Lower

Fears over the state of European banks after the European Central Bank lent dollars to a eurozone bank sent European markets plunging and have started a huge sell-off in the U.S. One bidder borrowed $500 million from the ECB and the news suggests at least one bank is having problems getting the cash it needs, according to Financial Times and CNBC.

At Thursday’s close, the SPDR S&P 500 (SPY) tumbled 4.3% to $114.51.
The SPDR Financial Select Sector Fund (XLF) sunk 4.8% to $12.38.
The SPDR Technology Select Sector Fund (XLK) fell 4.9% to $23.08.
And finally, the SPDR Gold Trust (GLD) rose 1.9% to $177.72.

Last week regulators in Italy, Belgium, France and Spain banned short-selling of financial stocks in an effort to curb volatility and bring some order to markets. How is that working out for you? Meanwhile, it’s nearly impossible to get any numbers on the shorting of U.S. stocks or ETFs on short notice, I wouldn’t be surprised if investors were using U.S. ETFs to short the European financial stocks.

Meanwhile, here are 4 funds that measure global financial stocks.
iShares MSCI Europe Financials Sector Index Fund (EUFN), of which banks make up 52% of the portfolio, plummeted 8% to $16.68.
iShares S&P Global Financials Sector Index Fund (IXG) plunged 5.2% to $36.99.
SPDR EURO STOXX 50 (FEZ) dived 5.5% to $31.06.
iShares MSCI United Kingdom Index Fund (EWU) skidded 4.6% to $15.71.

Finally, the ProShare UltraShort MSCI EAFE Fund surged 9.7% to $28.75. With a ticker of (EFU), this is probably the most appropriate sentiment of the day.

Might Still Be Too Early to Buy Europe ETF

And then there were three. The European debt crisis took a step backward Monday after Portugal received an $11 billion bailout from finace ministers of the European union. This is the third bailout over the past year by the European Union in the infamous PIGS country appellation. With Portugal, Ireland and Greece having succumbed to poor fiscal policies, the only PIG remaining is Spain, and its future remains in doubt.

With Portugal taken care of, Greece returns to the top spot among Europe’s biggest worries. Pimco’s bond king Bill Gross, who runs the world’s largest bond fund, says Greece is the world’s No. 1 candidate for default.

And that problem has gotten even worse with the weekend arrest of Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the head of the International Monetary Fund.

Last week, I spoke with Dimitre Genov, the senior portfolio manager of the Artio Global Equity mutual Fund, about his view on Europe, Japan and the global economy.

Genov says while Germany, France and the Netherlands are strong, most of the continent is still weak and it’s obvious that Europe’s financial problems have not been solved. The European Central Bank is buying time as it tries to take more proactive measures to fight the debt crisis. Genov says that Greece still can’t compete and that it’s wages are too high. He says it’s inevitable that that Greece will need to restructure its debt. He expects this to lead to more downside in European stocks.

However, Genov doesn’t think Spain will go into default. “It’s more a liquidity problem,” say Genov. “They are making moves to liberalize the labor market. They need to get rid of the wage rigidity to become more competitive and more efficient.”

Many of the European governments need to deal with debt, he says, but they’re finding it very difficult because none of the politicians are willing to make hard choices. “The market has to force them to do it,” says Genov. And while he says there are definite bargain stocks to be found in Europe, many will end up being value traps as the entire continent faces years of deleveraging. Meanwhile, he thinks Japan is facing structural decline as well, and sees a lot of deleveraging.

Overall, he recommends investing in emerging markets despite their poor performance lately. “We still like China,” says Genov. “ The economy may be slowing down but 7% to 8% a year is still significant growth.” He says the multiples in Chinese assets have compressed. He suggest consumer stocks as food prices have rolled over and inflation should peak in the next quarter or two.

Still, he says the market is entering a seasonally weak period and metrics have started softening, so it’s quite possible the current pullback in the stock market could post a significant decline. “The U.S. won’t enter a recession this year, but expect a slowdown before more upside.”

Vanguard’s MSCI Europe ETF (VGK) holds stocks from Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. The expense ratio is just 0.14%.