Bank stocks in the U.S. may have hit a bit of a wall this year, and considering their relatively high valuations, investors might want to look abroad for more attractive valued financials, like in Sweden. Unlike the strong performance U.S. bank stocks experienced over the past year, Sweden’s big four—Swedbank (SWEDA), Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEBA), Svenska Handelsbanken (SHBA) and Nordea (NDASEK)—slumped amid a cooling housing market and tight net interest margins.
But despite the still somewhat frothy looking housing market, these Nordic banks are paying out fat dividends and the macroeconomic environment looks to be improving, making these stocks a strong value play for investors, according to MarketWatch. (To read more, see: International Stock ETFs Are on the Rise.)
U.S. Banks vs. Swedish Banks
After a strong performance in 2017, U.S. bank stocks are down this year or are moving sideways: Goldman Sachs is flat for the year; Citigroup is down about 5.5%; Bank of America is up nearly 2.5%; and Morgan Stanley is up 4%. They are currently trading at trailing twelve month price to earnings ratios (P/E ratio) of 28.2, negative for Citigroup (thus not meaningful), 19.4, and 17.8, respectively.
In Sweden over the past year, Swedbank is down more than 9% and trades at a trailing P/E ratio of 10.71; Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken (SEBA) is down 13% since a year ago and trades at a multiple of 11.44; Svenska Handelsbanken is down 18% and trades at a multiple of 12.18; and Nordea is down 14%, now trading at a multiple of 12.28. (To read more, see: Sweden On Track to Be the First Cashless Society.)
Good Bargains Amid Strengthening Macro Environment
Haven fallen over the past year, these stocks are now poised to benefit from Sweden’s strong economy and an improving European economy. Economic growth in the European Union (EU) picked up to its fastest pace in a decade last year, at a rate of 2.4%. That relatively strong performance is expected to continue in 2018 and 2019, at rates of 2.3% and 2.0%, respectively, according to the European Commission.
On top of that stronger growth, the Swedish banks pay out attractive dividends, with dividend yields ranging from 6.7% for Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken to Nordea’s 8.1%. Also, the Riksbank, Sweden’s central bank, is expected to raise interest rates in the second half of this year from their current record low of minus 0.5%, which should help banks increase their net interest margins, according to MarketWatch.