The world is a funny little place. For all the talk of Greece (or Spain … or Italy … or Portugal …) getting kicked out of the eurozone, it is the United Kingdom — which doesn’t even use the euro as its currency — that might be the first political casualty of the euro crisis.
By this time next year, the U.K. might well have been kicked out of the European Union in all but name. A disagreement over the European Union’s budget — Britain wants spending capped at 2011 levels — could mark the unceremonious end to Perfidious Albion’s European experiment.
(I can imagine the break-up speech now: “It’s not you, it’s me. We’ve just grown so far apart these last few years … we’re just so different … it was never going to work, you and me.”
With or without Britain, 2013 promises to be an eventful year in Europe. I expect it to be volatile — but I also expect it to be wildly profitable for investors willing to stomach it.
Let’s take a look at the numbers. Santander trades for just 8 times expected 2013 earnings and just 0.69 times book value while yielding a fat 9.3% in dividends. BBVA trades for a comparable 8 times earnings and 0.71 times book, and yields 6.8% itself.
Both banks are cheap … but then again, both banks are domiciled in Spain.
Shouldn’t they be cheap?
Not exactly. Santander and BBVA get the vast majority of their profits overseas, and particularly from their growing Latin American subsidiaries. Both banks offer great “back door” access to one of the few areas of the globe that’s still growing.
Yes, there is macro risk in buying a Spanish bank. Spain is at the center of the European sovereign debt crisis, and banks are at the mercy of their home country’s sovereign credit rating. So if Spain “blows up,” it will take its banks down with it.
I don’t see this happening. Spain will fight it as long as it can — perhaps another quarter — but it eventually will have to ask the EU and European Central Bank for a bailout. And when that happens, I expect it to be a mundane, administrative detail, not a catastrophic market event.
Even outside of these two banking blue chips, there will be plenty of other opportunities to make money on Spanish banks in the year ahead.
Wilbur Ross, the famous “vulture investor,” has been circling around Spain for months. According to Bloomberg, Ross is looking to make investments in smaller Spanish banks once they start shedding their bad debts. The United States, Ireland and Britain have already gone through this process … and now it’s Spain’s turn. The Spanish government is in the process of setting up a “bad bank” to be a dumping ground for the country’s non-performing real estate debt. It’s expected to be up and running in early 2013.
Ross probably will focus on smaller Spanish banks, some of which don’t trade in the U.S. market with any volume to speak of. I intend to keep an eye on Ross’s moves (you can follow his moves too at Guru Focus) and may follow his lead when the time comes.
But for now, Santander and BBVA remain the best bets for most investors.
Charles Lewis Sizemore, CFA, is the editor of the Sizemore Investment Letter, and the chief investment officer of investments firm Sizemore Capital Management. Sizemore Capital is long BBVA and SAN. Sign up for a FREE copy of his new special report: “Top 3 ETFs for Dividend-Hungry Investors.”