Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Evolution of European Equity Risk

There are many ways in which investors can evaluate risk related to the euro zone. Credit default swaps for sovereign debt are one way to evaluate the risk of country default. Sovereign bond yields are a good proxy for a country’s access to funding via the credit markets. The euro crosses and related directional moves are a barometer of the strength of the currency and the euro zone countries as a whole, while various Intrade contracts can lend a sense of the probabilities that investors assign to various events, such as to the risk of one or more countries dropping the euro.

On the volatility side, the VSTOXX (EURO STOXX 50 Volatility Index) the EVZ (CBOE EuroCurrency Volatility Index) provide a market assessment of risk and uncertainty in euro zone stocks as well as the currency.

One piece of analysis I have not seen, however, is an assessment of the relative risk and uncertainty for equity markets in some of the more important euro zone nations. Specifically, Spain, Italy, France and Germany. The chart below attempts to offer up that very information, using 30-day implied volatility for the various country ETFs over the course of the past six months:

  • EWP – Spain (red line)
  • EWI – Italy (blue line)
  • EWQ – France (green line)
  • EWG – Germany (yellow line)

Looking at the chart, what initially catches my eye is the recent evolution of the two-tiered risk system. In the first half of the year, the higher risk is clearly associated with Italy and France, whereas Spain and Germany appear to be considerably less risky in terms of implied volatility. By the March the risk appears to have lessened across the board and the distinctions between individual countries is more difficult to discern. Over the course of the last 1 ½ months or so, a new two-tiered system has appeared. This time around it is Italy and Spain where the risk to equities is considered to be the greatest, with France now joining Germany in the lower risk tier.

In essence, Italy has persisted in the high risk tier and Germany has been a constant in the lower risk category. Over the course of the past few months, the interesting development has been the switch between France and Spain, with the former improving from being a peer of Italy to a peer of Germany, while Spain has moved in the opposite direction.

One could certainly argue that all four countries are in the same boat (taking on water, with shoddy life preservers, in shark-infested waters and being one small mutiny away from having no captain…), but clearly investors think there are important distinctions to be made in terms of equity risk and uncertainty. Perhaps of more interest, these fortunes appear to be shifting, with little perceptible difference not just between Spain and Italy, but also between Germany and France.

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