U.S. equities surged over the last six years as the economy regained its footing after the financial crisis, and companies underwent substantial cost cuts to improve profitability. Today, many international companies and regional economies are early in the process of making similar positive, transformative changes. Guy Scott, Co-Portfolio Manager of the Janus International Equity Fund, explains why the international sequel could be favorable for equity investors.
Déjà vu across the pond?
The U.S. economy and corporate America have undergone transcendent changes since the Great Financial Crisis, as government stimulus jump-started the economy and individual companies made cost cuts to run leaner and meaner than ever. The transformation has been reflected in domestic equities, which have enjoyed a six-year bull market and continue to hit new highs.
While the U.S. run could continue, we think it is an opportune time for investors to look across the Atlantic, where big changes are still in the early stages at the corporate and macroeconomic levels. Investors seeking to participate in the potential upside realized by these actions would be well served to invest ahead of those changes, not behind.
Europe holds potential for economic improvement
Efforts by the European Central Bank to stimulate the region’s economy have been later, and smaller in magnitude, than in the U.S., but given the threat of deflation, heavier stimulus efforts are likely on the way. And unlike previous efforts, which were hampered by macroeconomic threats such as a slowdown in Chinese demand and tension between Ukraine and Russia, we expect new stimulus measures to have a bigger impact on reviving the economy and sparking loan growth.
While Ukrainian-Russian tensions remain, several recent developments could improve consumer and business confidence, translating renewed stimulus into actual loan demand and economic growth.
• Property prices in Europe have stabilized.
• Europe’s banks came out of recent Asset Quality Reviews – Europe’s version of a stress test for its banks – unscathed, which provides more confidence in the health of the financial system.
• Capacity utilization in Europe hovers near 80%, the tipping point at which businesses typically make heavy investments and capital expenditures.
Margin expansion should benefit many European stocks
European companies have been slowly and quietly getting lean and mean like their American counterparts. Coming out of the Financial Crisis in 2008, profit margins in Europe severely lagged those in the U.S. because European companies were slower to enact cost-cutting measures to their businesses. Instead of making cost cuts or tough layoff decisions, most European companies waited for the government to bail out an industry or jump-start the economy. After another economic slowdown unfolded in Europe in 2012, and again in 2014, many European businesses are now taking matters into their own hands.
At many large European corporations, we’re seeing management teams spin off or restructure unprofitable businesses. Companies are also making big cost cuts and gaining major union concessions to become more profitable. For evidence of the latter, look no further than the French auto industry. Historically, France has been known for having very strong unions. But when capacity utilization for the French auto industry dipped to 50% in 2012, unions knew they had to acquiesce to concessions or face a greater number of jobs moving to Eastern Europe and other low-cost production bases. French unions at large automakers such as Ford, Peugeot and Renault agreed to close plants and reduce capacity to make their operations more efficient and ensure manufacturing plants in France survive for the long term.
As cost cuts work their way through European businesses, European companies could see considerable earnings growth through margin expansion, without the need of a strong economic tailwind. We believe stock prices will follow.
Invest ahead, not behind
While we believe improvements to European companies are on the way, they are not yet reflected in valuations. Investors who were in front of such changes in the U.S. have likely enjoyed watching those changes shake out over the last six years. Now may be the time to turn attention abroad.
While we see opportunity with many European stocks, the road ahead calls for a selective approach. Stimulus in Europe should benefit the economy broadly, but will be more impactful to select industries and companies. More importantly, the magnitude of cost cuts at each company differs significantly. While many companies have followed through with meaningful restructuring, others have paid only lip service to the need for cost cuts. Those specific companies that made real cost cuts are poised for greater margin expansion and profit growth, and represent the best opportunities in international markets.
Please consider the charges, risks, expenses and investment objectives carefully before investing. For a prospectus or, if available, a summary prospectus containing this and other information, please call Janus at 877.33JANUS (52687) or download the file from janus.com/info. Read it carefully before you invest or send money.
Mutual fund investing involves market risk. Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal and fluctuation of value.
The views presented are as of December 2014. They are for information purposes only and should not be used or construed as an offer to sell, a solicitation of an offer to buy, or a recommendation for any security or market sector. No forecasts can be guaranteed. The opinions and examples are meant as an illustration of broader themes, are not an indication of trading intent, and are subject to change at any time due to changes in market or economic conditions. There is no guarantee that the information supplied is accurate, complete, or timely, nor are there any warranties with regards to the results obtained from its use. It is not intended to indicate or imply in any manner that any illustration/example mentioned is now or was ever held in any Janus portfolio, or that current or past results are indicative of future profitability or expectations. As with all investments, there are inherent risks to be considered.
Foreign securities are subject to additional risks including currency fluctuations, political and economic uncertainty, increased volatility and differing financial and information reporting standards, all of which are magnified in emerging markets.
MSCI EAFE® (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index is a free float-adjusted market capitalization weighted index designed to measure developed market equity performance. The MSCI EAFE® Index is composed of companies representative of the market structure of Developed Market countries. The index includes reinvestment of dividends, net of foreign withholding taxes. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.
The views expressed are those of the portfolio manager(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of others in Janus’ organization. They are subject to change, and no forecasts can be guaranteed. The comments may not be relied upon as recommendations, investment advice or an indication of trading intent.
Janus makes no representation as to whether any illustration/example mentioned in this document is now or was ever held in any Janus portfolio. Illustrations are only for the limited purpose of analyzing general market or economic conditions and demonstrating the Janus research process. References to specific securities should not be construed as recommendations to buy or sell a security, or as an indication of holdings.
Funds that emphasize investments in smaller companies may experience greater price volatility.
Diversification neither assures a profit nor eliminates the risk of experiencing investment losses.
Investment products offered are: NOT FDIC-INSURED. MAY LOSE VALUE. NO BANK GUARANTEE.
Janus Distributors LLC
FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT JANUS
151 Detroit Street, Denver, CO 80206 I 800.668.0434