Be Greedy In Europe

By Aaron Levitt | May 31, 2012 AAA

As Europe's PIIG'S tragedy continues to unfold, the continent has been roughly "left for dead" by most investors. That's certainly understandable as slowing growth, exploding public debts and austerity measures continue to put pressure on the already fragile economic situation there. Possible sovereign debt defaults from Portugal, Ireland, Italy and Spain are still a real threat plaguing the eurozone and Greece's exit from the common currency could spell doom for the monetary union. Funds like the Vanguard MSCI Europe ETF (ARCA:VGK) now sits closer to their 52-week lows as investors have fled the Old World. However, accounting for more than a quarter of the world's market cap, investors shouldn't count Europe out completely. Long-term bargains are beginning to emerge and skipping the continent completely ignores some of the planet's largest multinationals.

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Time to be Greedy
With the Greek situation continuing to play out, Europe is quickly emerging as a long-term bargain hunters paradise as equities on the continent are trading for attractive levels. Faced with extreme pessimism, stocks in the region can now be had for cheaper metrics than many of their U.S. rivals. The STOXX Europe 600 Index--the continents broadest measure--is currently trading for a forward P/E of around 10.4% and price to book ratio of about 1.4. This compares to the S&P 500's forward P/E of 13 and price to book of 2.2.

At the same time, dividend yields across the continent continue to rival that of U.S. stocks and even corporate bonds. Excluding the U.K., dividend yields across mainland Europe currently sit at 5.5%. That's more than the popular iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corp Bond (ARCA:LQD), which tracks a basket of investment grade corporate bonds. Yet, unlike bonds, dividend payments can grow overtime and many of these payers represent some of the world's largest multinationals. Over a third of the companies in the STOXX Europe 600 Index rank in the top quartile of their respective industries worldwide, and many European firms receive the bulk of earnings from faster growing emerging markets. For example, Bayerische Motoren Werke (OTCBB:BAMXY) i.e. BMW, sells more cars in China that they do in Germany.

SEE: How Countries Deal With Debt

Adding Europe's Strong Contenders
With many of Europe's strong global companies firmly on sale, investors with long-term timelines may want to give the continent the go. The previously mentioned Vanguard Europe ETF, along with the iShares S&P Europe 350 Index (ARCA:IEV) offer a broad inroad into Europe's market. Perhaps a more compelling broad choice in the region is the closed-ended European Equity Fund (NYSE:EEA). The Deutsche Bank (NYSE:DB) sponsored fund currently holds 53 different European multinationals with the bulk of its holdings in the consumer and industrial sectors. However, the CEF currently can be had for almost 10% discount to its holdings. Investors are able to buy a dollar's worth of European stalwarts like Henkel (OTCBB:HENKY) for roughly 90 cents.

With global energy demand continuing to rise, the oil and gas sector has seen its fortunes shine over the last few years. Yet, Europe's major integrated oil firms continue to trade at discounts and pay higher dividends than their U.S. counterparts. The triple play of France's Total (NYSE:TOT), Norway's Statoil (NYSE:STO) and Italy's Eni (NYSE:E) all represent compelling long-term buys and can help boost the yield of any energy portfolio. These stocks currently pay 5.9, 4.1 and 5.2% in dividends, respectively.

Finally, Europe's healthcare industry is second to none. The sectors globally-driven and recession-resistant nature makes it almost immune to what happens on continent. Both Denmark's Novo Nordisk (NYSE:NVO) and France's Sanofi (NYSE:SNY) remain the leaders in the diabetes and insulin segments, and both are poised to benefit as a number of worldwide cases continues to grow.

SEE: How To Use The Dividend Capture Strategy

The Bottom Line
With the debt crisis in Europe continuing play on, it's understandable why investors have ignored the continent. However by doing this, many portfolios are missing out on some real long-term values within the global economy. For investors, the region's current valuations make it an attractive choice for a long-term bet. The previous examples are just some ways to play the current bargain.

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At the time of writing, Aaron Levitt did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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