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Europe and America Putt for Dough
The last time Team Europe and Team USA met, it wasn’t pretty for America, losing 18 ½ – 9 ½. With the second leg in Kildare, Ireland later this week, I hope the relative performance of the European and US stock markets this year is not the leading indicator.
I’ll be glued to the tube during the games and rooting hard for an American win, but the home court advantage for Team Europe will be hard to beat. The European team is stocked with experienced players from Great Britain and Ireland, supplemented by players from Sweden and Spain.
Team Europe countries have definitely outperformed the US in terms of ROI this year. While the S&P 500 rose 5.45%, the Spanish ETF ( EWP ) rose 24.3%, Sweden ( EWD ) rose 19.2%, the United Kingdom ( EWU ) rose 18% and the closed-end New Ireland Fund ( IRL) is 22% higher. The New Ireland fund, managed by Bank of Ireland Asset Management, is nearing a 52-week high and trading at a 5% discount to net asset value.
Some of this performance is due to stronger currencies. In Spain and Ireland, the euro has risen by 7.5% so far this year. Sweden opted out of the euro in 2003, and the Swedish krona and British pound have also performed well against the dollar. This is one of the advantages of investing in country-specific ETFs, as they are not hedged against the US dollar.
There are many parallels between golf and investing. When I was a UBS investment advisor, I often taught popular investment seminars at golf clubs called “Why Great Golfers Make Great Investors.” Some of the points I made were that great golfers are well prepared and follow a clear game plan, consistent pricing and keeping the ball in the fairway, carefully calculating the odds for each shot, having a team of talented coaches and caddies (your financial advisors) and most importantly keep your cool and get out of trouble with minimal losses.
American investors tend to underestimate Europe and fall for the common perception of Europe as a slow-growing bureaucratic region offering minimal opportunities. This misses the point that Europe is host to many world-class multinationals that take up business around the world. For example, the fact that Germany is a slow-growing economy prompts companies such as Siemens and BMW to look overseas for growth.
In addition, investors need to be aware of 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 too complacent.
The Heritage Foundation/Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom is an objective economic benchmark that has been used for the past ten years to study and grade various countries.
The index is a careful analysis of how free an economy is, measuring 161 countries against ten broad factors of economic freedom. The conclusions of this study are straightforward: countries with the most economic freedom also have higher rates of long-term economic growth and are more prosperous than countries with less economic freedom.
You may be surprised to learn that the 2006 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Ireland third, Luxembourg fourth, the United Kingdom fifth, and Denmark eighth. The United States tied for ninth place with Australia and New Zealand. Maybe it’s time for America to enact major market reforms like a flat tax and start cracking down on creeping overregulation.
My advice to investors is to enjoy the competition and support your home team while incorporating all countries into your global portfolio. The beauty of golf is that both Ryder Cup teams will play on the same course and under the same conditions. Team USA will have to be at the top of their game to beat Team Europe. One thing is for sure, she can’t afford to be complacent.
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