Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • May 4, 2023

Will European Equity Resilience Continue?


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Graham Secker, Head of Morgan Stanley's European Equity Strategy Team. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about our latest thoughts on European equities. It's Thursday, May the 4th at 3 p.m. in London.

Over the last couple of months, we have seen global technology stocks significantly outperform global financial stocks, aided by lower bond yields and concerns around the health of the U.S. regional banking sector. Historically, when we have seen tech outperform financials in the past, it has usually been accompanied by material underperformance from European equities. However, this time the region has proved much more resilient. Part of this reflects the benefits of lower valuation and lower investor positioning. However, we also see two broader macro supports for Europe just here.

First, we see less downside risk to the European economy than that of the U.S., where many of the traditional economic leading indicators are down at recessionary levels. In contrast, similar metrics for Europe, such as consumer confidence and purchasing managers indices, have actually been rising recently. In addition, a healthier and more resilient banking sector over here in Europe suggests there is potentially less risk of a credit crunch developing here than we see in the U.S..

Second, we think Europe is also seen as an alternative way to get exposure to an economic recovery in China, given that the region has stronger economic ties and greater stock market exposure than most of its developed market peers. While this is not necessarily manifesting itself in overall aggregate inflows into European equity funds at this time, we can clearly see the theme benefiting certain sectors, such as luxury goods, which has arguably become one of the most popular ways to express a positive view on China globally.

Notwithstanding these relative advantages, we do expect some near-term weakness in European stocks over the next quarter, with negative risks from the U.S. potentially outweighing positive risks from China and Asia. While first quarter results season has started strongly, we believe earnings disappointment will gradually build as we move through 2023 and our own forecasts remain close to 10% below consensus. Catalysts for this disappointment include slower economic growth, from the second quarter onwards, continued falls in profit margins and building FX headwinds given a strengthening euro.

Our negative view on the outlook for corporate profitability often prompts the question as to which companies are over-earning and hence potentially most at risk from any mean reversion. To help answer this question, we ranked European sectors across five different profitability metrics where we compared their current levels to their ten year history. This analysis suggests that the European sectors who are currently over-earning, and hence most at risk of future disappointment include transport, semiconductors, construction materials, energy and autos.

In contrast, sectors where profitability does not look particularly elevated at this time include retailing, diversified financials, media, chemicals, real estate and software.

More broadly, we believe this analysis supports our cautious view on cyclical stocks within Europe just here, particularly for the likes of energy and autos, where profits are already falling year on year and where we see more downgrades ahead. Instead, we maintain a preference for stocks with higher quality and growth characteristics. We think these should be relative outperformers against the backdrop of economic weakness, falling bond yields and better relative earnings trends.

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The banking sector appears stronger in Europe than it does in the U.S., but some other European sectors may be at risk of lower profitability.