Europe: Market Capitalization vs. Smart Beta

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A bullish investor consensus for European equities appears to be building.  More and more, we are hearing and reading that European equities are attractive and undervalued.  It may be the right time for greater exposure to developed international equities, and Europe might be the right place for investors to focus.  However, why stop there?  Why stop at the regional level?  Why buy every developed county in Europe when not every country in Europe is attractive and undervalued?  Furthermore, why overweight the largest countries and companies in Europe if they are not the most attractive or undervalued?  

The Smart Beta Approach

European equities, in aggregate, do appear attractive and can be accessed via ETFs like VGK (Vanguard) and IEV (iShares).  These ETFs approximate the FTSE Developed Europe Index.  This index provides market capitalization weighted exposure to developed Europe.  The top ten country allocations in VGK are 1) United Kingdom (33.1%), 2) France (14.4%), 3) Germany (14.0%), 4) Switzerland (13.5%), 5) Spain (5.0%), 6) Sweden (4.8%), 7) Netherlands (4.6%), 8) Italy (3.4%), 9) Denmark (1.9%), 10) Belgium (1.8). *

Cap-weighted equity index funds tend to overweight overvalued securities and underweight undervalued ones, creating a 2% return drag in developed markets and more in less efficient ones. Smart beta strategies retain the benefits of traditional capitalization-weighted indices, such as broad market exposure, diversification, liquidity, transparency, and low cost access to markets. At the same time, they offer the opportunity to achieve superior performance over the cap-weighted benchmark. *

Perhaps a non-market capitalization weighted “smart beta” approach to Europe is better suited for this European investment opportunity.  In the case of VGK and IEV, investors are gaining exposure to the largest companies in Europe and simultaneously gaining exposure to the countries with the largest market capitalizations.  So, with 75% of VGK allocated to only 4 countries, an investor must ask the question: Are the biggest companies and biggest countries the most attractive segment of the Europe?    

A Deeper Dive

A balanced multi-factor review of the countries in Europe reveals that France (a 14.4% weight in VGK) is not as attractive as Spain, and Switzerland (a 13.5% weight in VGK) is not as attractive as Sweden.  Through an analysis of country level momentum, valuations, risks, and fundamentals we find that a market capitalization weighted approach to European equities may be sub-optimal.  Historically, larger allocations to countries with relatively positive momentum, low valuations, and strong fundamentals benefits investors over a full market cycle. *

Recall that the European Debt Crisis was a macro-level systematic shock that resulted in a broad market flight to safety and high inter-country correlations. European companies and countries sold off in tandem as Europe entered a recession and debt crisis. Conversely, all of Europe rallied as the financial system stabilized, regional economy bottomed and confidence returned. Now that the system in Europe has stabilized and a regional bounce back has occurred, we expect to see country level factors and stock specific risks lead returns higher and drive correlations lower from here.  Accordingly, a deeper dive, below the regional level, is necessary to take advantage of a wider range of country returns in the region. Our research and systematic “smart beta” country ranking process reveals high variation in country profiles and investment prospects. Not all of the countries in Europe are attractive. We see the full spectrum of momentum, valuations, risks, and fundamentals in the developed countries of Europe, and we advise a balanced, multi-factor, conviction weighted approach to the region.


The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author. The materials and commentary are strictly informational and should be used for research use only. This brochure should not be construed as advertising material. The opinions expressed are not intended to provide investing or other advice or guidance with respect to the matters addressed in this brochure. All relevant facts, including individual circumstances, need to be considered by the reader to arrive at investment conclusions to comply with matters addressed in this brochure. Past performance is not indicative of future results. Remember that investing involves risks, as the value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money. Investment risks are born solely by the investor and not by Accuvest Global Advisors (AGA). AGA is an independent investment advisor registered with the SEC. All disclosures, marketing brochures, and supplemental firm sheets are available upon request.

Charts and information used in this report are sourced from AGA. Commentary marked by “*” are sourced from Vanguard, Research Affiliates, and Accuvest, respectively.

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