Business Standard

A euro curse? European banking stocks' lost decades


Reuters LONDON
LONDON (Reuters) - Paris, December 31, 1998:
Fearing his country's pay-as-you-go pension scheme is unsustainable, a 40-year old French engineer - let's call him Jean Dupont - makes a New Year resolution.
Hoping the introduction of the euro the next day will mark a new era of prosperity for the European economy, Dupont decides to invest in the bloc's banking sector every single trading day for the next two decades.
His strategy is simple: buying and holding on what he believes is the best proxy to play the region's dynamic economy.
And why not? Europe is expanding at its fastest rate in about 10 years, Germany has turned its economy around since reunification in 1990 and, with more than 10 Eastern and Central European countries queuing up to join the EU, there seems to be no shortage of growth on the horizon.
Moreover, a dot-com boom is fuelling belief in a promising IT-based "new economy".
What could possibly go wrong?
Paris, December 31, 2018:
Now 60, Dupont must come to terms with the fact that his investment strategy has misfired horribly.
Excluding dividends, he finds that he has lost money on his 20 years of daily investments in the euro zone banking sector a staggering 98.5 percent of the time.
Only about 1.5 percent of his investments were made at a lower level than the index's close on Dec. 28, 2018.
He is not sure who to blame.
The great financial crisis of 2008 seems a credible culprit.
But his American cousin Jonathan Bridges, who 20 years ago followed a parallel strategy of daily investments in the U.S. banking index, has had a success rate of about 50 percent.
That's even though the subprime loans that were a major factor in the crisis were centred on the United States.
Dupont might also look for clues in the euro zone economy's sluggish growth rate, the sovereign debt crisis of 2011 or ultra-low, and at times negative, interest rates.
But none of that can fully explain to him why the bloc's banking index has lost about two-thirds of its value over 20 years.
If he wasn't such a rational man, he'd almost think the euro was cursed.
(Julien Ponthus)

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First Published: Dec 31 2018 | 2:15 PM IST

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