Are European equities cheap? I keep hearing that European that they are cheap relative to the US at least. It follows then that because the US has outperformed so much over the past 10 years, there is bound to be a reversion to the mean. This chart is often thrown around with no real context other than lower P/E means great buy:
I wanted to break that down and test the hypothesis. I downloaded the holdings for the S&P500 (from iShares IVV) and the Eurozone equities fund (EZU). But before we go through that, check out the relative performance.
Bottom line: Europe has gotten its A$$ kicked.
But wait – this isn’t totally true. We can’t forget currency’s impact on performance. The dollar has strengthened massively (since the US is the best house in a bad neighborhood). Here is the hedged Euro performance. Not nearly as bad as some pundits might have you believe over the past few years…
So how do the companies that make up the index compare? Here is my simple pivot tables using the weighted avg to assess the relative forward P/E multiples.
Note: the amounts don’t add to 100% due to rounding plus a small amount of cash held in the ETFs.
As we can see, looking 2 years out the S&P trades at 20.8x earnings compared to 16.0x for Eurozone. That does indeed seem steep. What is driving it?
Several sectors stick out: Consumer Discretionary, Tech, Real Estate and Financials.
Why does Consumer Discretionary trade so much higher in the US?
One word: Amazon. The company is labeled as consumer discretionary vs. Tech. Watch what happens when I relabel Amazon as a tech company.
It drops precipitously! Given Amazon is such a big weight in the index, it has a dramatic impact on the sector. It is still high relative to Eurozone, but not crazy.
I personally thought that the US would rank higher in P/E solely because of Tech. And that does seem to be a big driver. Including Amazon, Tech weighs in at almost a quarter of the S&P500. If I include Facebook and Google (currently in the communication sector) it would be close to 30%!
While remnants of the tech bubble make this a concern, I would rather have these businesses than not and think they actually trade at reasonable valuations. They grow 20% a year and are secular growth stories while also requiring little capital to grow.
So another adjustment here, but we’re starting to parse out the large drivers here.
One reason for the high multiples in the US is REITs. These entities pay no income taxes and should therefore trade for higher multiples. However, that’s not the whole story. Think about the best businesses in the REIT space: oligopolies, contractual rent escalators, increasing demand each year… Yes the tower REITs.
American Tower, Crown Castle and SBA Communications dominate the real estate sector. Arguably tech exposed as well, this is the big driver. In addition, they are investing heavily for growth and REITs tend to carry higher leverage. This means increased EBITDA but EPS can be pinched by interest in the short-term.
Last but not least… Financials. Look at where they trade in the US vs. Europe. More importantly, look at their relative weights. We all know the struggles of European banks due to (i) negative interest rates and (ii) weaker economies. Do I want to own those banks? Perhaps because some day their troubles will reverse… but for now, I’ll pass.
Bottom line: I don’t think Eurozone equities are THAT cheap. The further and further you peel back the onion, the more I want to buy the US vs. Europe. Is the multiple higher than Europe? Yes. Is it a concern how big tech has become in the US indices? Yes, but I also want to own those companies. As they continue to disrupt and change the way we do things, Europe’s older economy may be left holding the bag.
As one final comparison, here is what you are buying. In my view, missing secular growth and asset light businesses in exchange for “cheap” cyclical names (banks, Oil and Gas, Autos, Chems). I think the US will compound at a much higher rate going forward as well and should perform much better in a recession. If you think the US$ will depreciate or that we are headed for a tech crash, then sure, go with europe.