Last time team Europe and team USA squared off, it wasn’t pretty with America on the losing end of an 18 ½ - 9 ½ score. Later this week, the rematch is on in Kildaire, Ireland and I hope the relative performance of European and American stock markets so far this year is not a leading indicator.
I will be glued to the tube during the matches pulling mightily for an American win but the home court advantage for team Europe will be tough to overcome. The European team is stocked with veteran players from the UK and Ireland complemented by players from Sweden and Spain.
Team Europe countries have certainly outshined the US in terms of investment returns this year. While the S&P 500 index is up 5.45%, the Spain ETF (EWP) is up 24.3%, Sweden (EWD) is up 19.2%, the UK (EWU) is up 18% and the closed-ended New Ireland Fund (IRL) is up 22%. The New Ireland Fund, managed by Bank of Ireland Asset Management, is close to a 52 week high and trades at a 5% discount to its net asset value.
Some of this out performance is due to stronger currencies. For Spain and Ireland, the euro is up 7.5% so far this year. Sweden opted out of the euro in 2003 and the Swedish Krona and the British Pound have also done well against the dollar. This is one of the benefits to investing in country-specific ETFs since they are not hedged against the US dollar.
There are many parallels between golf and investing. When I was an investment advisor with UBS, I frequently conducted popular investment seminars at golf clubs entitled, “Why Great Golfers Are Great Investors”. Some of the points I made were that great golfers are well prepared and stick to a clear game plan, prize consistency and keep the ball in the fairway, carefully calculate the odds for every shot, have a team of talented coaches and caddies (your financial advisors) and, most importantly, keep their cool and get out of trouble with minimal losses.
American investors have a tendency to underestimate Europe and fall prey to the common perception of Europe as a slow-growth, bureaucratic, region offering minimal opportunities. This misses the point that Europe is host to many world-class multinationals that grab business all over the globe. For example, the fact that Germany is a slow growth economy spurs companies like Siemens and BMW to look for growth overseas.
In addition, investors need to recognize the pro-growth, less-regulated and market-oriented wing of Europe best represented by the UK and Ireland. Americans like to think of themselves as the leaders of global capitalism but perhaps we are getting a bit too complacent.
The Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom is an objective economic criterion that has been used for the last ten years to study and grade various countries. The index is a careful analysis of the how free an economy is and measures 161 countries against ten broad factors of economic freedom. The findings of this study are straightforward: the countries with the most economic freedom also have higher rates of long-term economic growth and are more prosperous than are those with less economic freedom. It might surprise you to learn that in the 2006 Index of Economic Freedom, Ireland ranks third, Luxembourg fourth, the UK fifth, and Denmark eighth. The United States tied for ninth place with Australia and New Zealand. Perhaps it’s time for America to enact significant market reforms like the flat tax and start pushing back creeping overregulation.
My advice to investors is to enjoy the competition and support your home team while blending all the countries into your global portfolio. The beauty of golf is that both Ryder Cup teams will be playing on the same golf course and under the same conditions. The US team will need to be on the top of its game to beat team Europe. One thing is for sure, it cannot afford to be complacent.
Carl T. Delfeld President & Publisher Chartwell Partners http://www.chartwelladvisor.com.
Carl has over twenty years of experience in the global investment business with a strong background in Asia.