How do you identify great contrarian investment opportunities?
Two ways. First, rather than limiting yourself to your national borders, you seek out opportunities worldwide. Next, you insist on two essential factors: abject pessimism and extreme valuations. That’s exactly what we have in European stocks today.
Ask your friends and neighbors which stocks in Europe they’re buying right now and they’ll ask you to sit down so they can feel your forehead. After all, no one in his right mind would buy stocks in a region where socialist policies reign, economic growth is almost nonexistent and the currency – the euro – is coming apart at the seams, right?
Wrong. The fact that almost no one is enthusiastic about Europe right now – indeed, most see it as a ticking time bomb – tells you that sentiment is entirely negative.
How about valuations? Those are compelling, too. The benchmark MSCI Europe Index, for example, currently sells for just 9.8 times estimated 2012 earnings, versus an average of 17 times earnings over the past 25 years. Plus, the drop in prices has boosted the dividends on many of the well-known global companies based in Europe.
In sum, you have low valuations, high dividends and extremely negative sentiment. Yet the vast majority of investors reading these words won’t plunk a dime in these markets. (And, if history is any guide, a year or two from now they’ll scratch their heads and say they just can’t fathom how European stocks could have rallied so strongly.)
Not that buying contrarian investments in this troubled region doesn’t present some risks. After all, the European Central Bank (ECB) is propping up troubled banks. Many Eurozone countries are teetering on the brink of recession. And there’s a decided lack of bold political leadership in the region.
But the good news is that all these factors are already well known and fully priced into European stocks. (That’s why they’re so darn cheap.) Meanwhile, the U.S. economy has stabilized – reducing a big risk to the global economy – and the ECB has at least addressed liquidity problems at the banks.
Plus, a weaker euro is actually boosting the earnings prospects for the many companies that export to other parts of the world where economic growth (and currencies) are stronger.
Prime examples are:
So how do you play this contrarian investment opportunity? One of the best ways is with a low-cost, Europe-focused ETF like the Vanguard MSCI Europe Fund (NYSE: VGK). It’s easily the least expensive ETF in the sector with annual expenses of just .14%.
Companies in the U.K. account for around 34% of VGK’s assets, while France, Germany and Switzerland make up approximately 40%. The fund holds more than 450 stocks, but a quarter of its $2.4-billion portfolio is in its top 10 holdings, which include Vodafone, Royal Dutch Shell and HSBC Holdings. You’ll earn a 4.4% dividend here.
If you want to benefit even more from a potential slingshot recovery in these markets, try the WisdomTree Europe SmallCap Dividend Fund (NYSE: DFE). It keeps a third of its assets in smaller British companies and the rest in small-cap stocks in the Eurozone.
Remember, when an equity market rallies, the small-cap issues generally outperform larger stocks. And your contrarian investment will get a whopping 5.8% dividend here.
So there you have it, two great ways to play one of the most compelling opportunities in the world right now. Of course, most investors simply cannot bring themselves to invest against the herd. That’s how they got stuck in internet stocks a decade ago and residential real estate five years ago.
It’s also why this is perhaps one of the best contrarian investment opportunities today.