The Euro: Making Calls and Taking Falls

For a second day in a row stocks were mixed but lacked any major movement, as traders took a bit of a breather after Wednesday’s release of the Federal Reserve’s meeting minutes.

Oil sold off for the second day in a row but that market seems to have calmed down from the major volatility of the last few months to settle right around the $50 per barrel area.

The major news of the day came from the negotiations between Greece’s newly formed government and the rest of the Eurogroup. Greece has made efforts to renegotiate the terms of the bailout (officially called The Master Financial Assistance Facility) that was used to refinance the government debt that they could not repay.

It was announced yesterday that Greece formally asked for an extension of the previous terms in order to give the parties more time to negotiate a long-term deal. Germany (the leader of the Eurogroup) came out in opposition of the deal and called for more action on the part of Greece to make meaningful reform. Despite the negative news, European stocks were higher on the day.

Which brings us to the topic I wanted to discuss this morning…

Bad news from Europe is hardly a recent development. The Euro crisis began with the global financial crisis, but didn’t get started in earnest until 2010. Still, the battle between the stronger economies (Germany, and to a lesser extent France, and the smaller nations of northern Europe) and the weaker economies (Portugal, Ireland, Greece, Cyprus, Spain) is in its sixth year and while the talk of a break-up of the Euro was stronger at the height of the crisis in 2012-13 than it is now, it can still be heard loud and clear.

Everyday investors who own international stocks have no need to look past their account statements to feel the effect of the ongoing issues in Europe. Compared to the S&P 500 (US Large Cap) Developed International has underperformed badly over the last 5 years. (A period of time that covers the slow but significant recovery in the US economy and the Euro Crisis overseas)

With no end in sight to the saga of Europe’s debtor nations, investors may find it difficult to continue to hold on to such a poorly performing asset class. Perhaps thinking that when the dust settles, they will look to get back into international stocks and ride the recovery that is likely to follow the solution to the problem… assuming there eventually is one.

Despite the ongoing battle, international stocks have outperformed US Large Cap so far in 2015. In fact, the same European countries that were a drag on performance during the 5 year period I spoke about earlier are leading the asset class. France is up 12.8% year-to-date, Germany 12.7% and Netherlands is up 10.4% – even Spain is up more than the US. All of this has happened after Greece elected a government whose platform was built around a pledge to do everything humanly possible to reverse the austerity measures enacted by the previous government as terms of the bailout and not pay back any of the money. Hardly a positive development in the eyes of investors…

The point being, successfully predicting that the Euro crisis would take a step backward, and selling out of international stocks ahead of relations between the countries getting worse would have been the wrong move. As unpredictable as the European stock market performance so far this year may be investors who stayed invested over year end have benefited. Like we have seen so many times in the past, market performance is often random and not always rational.

At Acropolis we aren’t looking for that to change any time soon. We believe our clients are much better served by remaining invested and rebalancing through the tough periods that will continue to cause some asset classes to underperform others. Instead of trying to move in and out of markets tactically, we focus our efforts on factors such as risk tolerance and time horizon to help our clients meet their investment objectives. A strategy we believe in wholeheartedly.