Where's the growth? Euro zone still lacks investor appeal

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Some outside investors have snapped up assets in the strongest corners of the region. (Reuters) Some outside investors have snapped up assets in the strongest corners of the region. (Reuters)
SummarySome outside investors have snapped up assets in the strongest corners of the region.

Encouraged by the euro zone's resilience last year in the face of severe doubts about its survival, some outside investors have snapped up assets in the strongest corners of the region.

Yet even the most enthusiastic euro proponent would concede there's plenty more to do to strengthen the currency bloc. Fundamentally, there's a need for economic growth to start to revive for many investors to risk a more decisive push into bonds, equities or more tangible assets in a swathe of crisis-hit countries.

"After last year, one should consider that the likely outcome for Europe in the next decade is 1 percent annual growth," said Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan CEO Jim Leech, who is not planning to venture into Europe's "wine-belt" countries such as Spain and Italy for investments.

"It's going to take a long time to mend itself. One has to look (instead) at emerging markets," added Leech, whose fund is looking to open an office in Hong Kong and hopes to team up with local players for large China transactions.

Go back a year and the prospect of a disorderly Greek exit, leading to the euro's possible implosion, was the central subject of debates between bankers, investors and policymakers meeting in Davos for the annual World Economic Forum.

Twelve months on, the euro is still standing and has regained ground against the dollar and the Swiss franc, after European Central Bank head Mario Draghi showed in the summer he was determined to prevent a breakup of the 17-nation currency.

"The single biggest factor that has contributed to changing the investment outlook is obviously Mario Draghi and the stance of the ECB," said David Novak, a partner with Clayton, Dubilier and Rice, one of the oldest U.S. private equity firms.

"Knowing that a backstop is there has led to a level of stability in the market," said Novak, whose firm acquired a significant interest in British discount retailer B&M last year.

Novak, who expects 2013 to be a transition year for Europe, said his firm would continue to look for investments in businesses with strong exports located in Britain and northern Europe. But more evidence of long-term stability was needed to make deals in southern Europe attractive, he added.

AUSTERITY

The ECB's pledge to buy unlimited quantities of bonds of weaker nations has led to the near-halving of Italian and Spanish borrowing costs from their euro crisis peaks, with some fund managers dipping back into hard-hit sovereign bonds after

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