Vive La Eurozone

Jan 13, 2023

Quick read

  • In our view, a sharp economic downturn in the Eurozone now appears unlikely. The combination of preemptive energy storage, fiscal policy action, and resilient domestic demand have mitigated the risk of industrial shutdowns and a sharp drop in household disposable income.
  • In our tactical multi-asset portfolios like the BlackRock Tactical Opportunities Fund, we are positioned for a more resilient European economy. We are long European equities versus the US and maintain an outright short to European sovereign government bonds.

“Textbook economics will not avert this winter’s energy catastrophe”, “Europeans are Bundling Up For Energy-Saving Winter” and “Europe is Going to Party Like It’s 1979,” are just a few of the attention-grabbing headlines written at the end of summer in 2022.1 Heading into the autumn, the news was nearly uniformly doom and gloom on the economic prospects for Europe. Now, in the midst of winter, views on Europe have shifted markedly. According to both economists and asset markets, it increasingly looks like springtime will arrive early in Europe. This recent unwind of negativity is aligned with the GTAA team’s economic insights and our portfolios remain positioned for markets to price further improvements in the Eurozone outlook in the coming months.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine in early 2022 triggered large downward revisions to 2022 economic forecasts across most European indicators. However, despite the war continuing for longer than expected, the European expansion has thus far proven more resilient than expected. The plot below shows the improvements to end-of-2022 economics forecasts across a few key variables over the course of the year. The onset of the war in early 2022 triggered large downgrades to GDP and consumption growth and a slight uptick in wage expectations. But as policymakers and firms enacted policies to mitigate the economic risks, the downgrades began to reverse in the late summer. The continued upgrades to both consumption and wage growth estimates in recent months are consistent with a more resilient outlook for Europe.

Consensus estimates for the Eurozone have recovered in recent months

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Source: Consensus Economics and BlackRock as of December 2022.

Eurozone equities see light at the end of the tunnel

The economic risks of gas rationing and mandated industrial shutdowns in the winter were highly salient this past summer. Credit and equity markets reacted by pricing in some risks of defaults and hits to earnings. Thankfully those worst-case fears have thus far proven misplaced - global supplies of piped and liquified natural gas were redirected to Europe to refill storage depleted by Russian sanctions and shutoffs; policymakers enacted large and targeted fiscal relief packages to mitigate unbounded utility price rises; and households and firms have proactively cut extraneous energy demand. A little bit of good luck with a warm autumn weather and the pricing out of tail downside scenarios was particularly strong in equity markets. Recent surveys of companies and households show curbs to energy demand have mitigated rationing risks without denting economic output.2

As shown in the plot below, the recent rebound in global equities has disproportionately benefitted European markets. Germany and France have strongly outperformed the US, and even the UK has managed to eek out relative outperformance in spite of the budget turmoil and challenges in its government bonds markets. The relative underperformance of US equities is consistent with our team’s positioning that we highlighted in an earlier article, Fed Up with US Equities.

European equities have outperformed US equities since the end of summer

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Source: Bloomberg and BlackRock as of December 8, 2022. Past performance does not guarantee future results. Global index performance is for illustrative purposes only. Index performance does not reflect any management fees, transaction costs or expenses. Indexes are unmanaged and one cannot invest directly in an index. US equities represented by S&P 500 futures, German equities by Dax futures, French equities by CAC futures, and UK equities by FTSE 100 futures. Lines show total return in local currency from 8/31/2022 to 12/8/2022.

Will the European Central Bank agree?

One of the bigger surprises to markets this year has been the rapid normalization of monetary policy in the Eurozone. Despite the aforementioned growth concerns, the European Central Bank (ECB) has remained resolute to adhering to its singular inflation mandate and hiked interest rates into positive territory to slow inflation. However, November’s preliminary readings of headline inflation of 10% and core inflation of 5% continue to remain uncomfortably high versus the ECB’s 2% target. With some of the worst downside risks to growth having been priced out, we believe that markets have underappreciated that policy rates across Europe are likely to remain higher for longer. The ECB needs to tighten further, and it is likely to deliver more than is currently priced by markets.

What do these views mean for portfolio positioning?

In our tactical multi-asset portfolios like the BlackRock Tactical Opportunities Fund, we seek to deliver diversifying returns that are lowly correlated with directional stock and bond markets. We do so primarily by seeking out relative value opportunities across different countries in both stocks and government bond markets. Within bonds, our portfolios remain short global duration with shorts concentrated in the Eurozone and Swedish bond markets. Within equities, we continue to position for European equities – particularly in the UK and Eurozone – as we believe there is potential to outperform. Our expectations are that these positions stand to benefit from a combination of resilience of European growth and continued high wage and price inflation.

Thomas Becker, PhD
Portfolio Manager, Global Tactical Asset Allocation Team
Tom Becker, PhD, Managing Director, is a portfolio manager on the Global Tactical Asset Allocation (GTAA) team within BlackRock's Multi-Asset Strategies & Solutions group.

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