Contrary to popular belief, continental Europe hasn’t sunk into the ocean, the euro-union’s citizens aren’t running around in animal hides, and not a single building in Europe has been leveled by some sort of apocalyptic event.
Yes, led by Greece (though Greece is hardly the only culprit), the union has some sovereign debt trouble — a lot of it, in fact. In the grand scheme of things, though, what’s happening in Europe now isn’t all that different than what happened in the United States in late 2008 and early 2009. We took our lumps then, and we have been in recovery mode ever since. Europe’s just now getting around to taking its lumps. It’ll hurt, but the patient isn’t terminally ill.
In fact, for the truly savvy trader — and one with the guts to take on contrarian stances — getting into a little more European exposure now in front of a brewing rebound could pay off in a big way.
That’s what five major U.S. corporations are thinking, anyway, as they keep wading into Europe betting on a recovery there. If they’re right, the reward will be worth much more than the risk, and shareholders will have plenty to celebrate.
In no particular order …
Seattle-based coffee house Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) is aiming to add 700 to 1000 new stores in Europe within the next five years, adding to the 17,000 units it already has in operation (some of which are already established in Europe).
This targeted 5% growth in the number of stores isn’t even the whole story. It’s part of a paradigm shift for the company’s entire European operation; Starbucks will be spending millions just on remodeling its existing stores to give them more of a euro feel, and less of an (sorry, but it’s true) American feel.
General Motors (NYSE:GM) on Wednesday announced an alliance with France’s Peugeot, via a purchase of 7% of the company.
The pros say a collaborative alliance between PSA Peugeot Citreon and General Motors — both of which are losing money in Europe — wouldn’t actually create any kind of money-saving synergy in the near term. And it’s not an off-base pessimism; equity deals in the auto industry somehow rarely seem to benefit either party in the end. In this case, though, it’s pretty clear to both companies that they each have to do something to rekindle the viability of their European operations. They’ve both proven (for too long now) they can’t do it alone, so with nothing left to lose but more money, both parties are highly motivated to turn the tide any way they can.
Is Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) the digital-entertainment equivalent to Jerry Lewis? An interesting distraction in the United States, but a hit in France? Investors are sure hoping so after the company’s pricing gaffe in the middle of last year.
The online television and movie service hasn’t been given very good odds as a competitor in Europe’s $76 billion paid television market, but even a small fraction of that could be a big deal for Netflix, which only generated $3.2 billion revenue over the past four quarters.
A few years ago, many Europeans would have rolled their eyes at the very idea of stepping foot in a Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT) store. It’s kind of funny how a deep-cutting recession can make you rethink the value of being price-conscious. Wal-Mart knows it too, which is why the world’s biggest retailer is rumored to be on the verge of getting even bigger, by opening new stores in France.
The buzz is that the Carrefour chain in France is in financial trouble, and might be selling locales soon. If that’s the case, Wal-Mart allegedly would love to have them. Several other smaller comparable chains have been thrown into the acquisition rumor mill too, including Metro Group, Italy’s Esselunga and Spain’s Mercadona.
Wal-Mart has very little European exposure now — only its U.K.-based Asda supermarket chain. So that in itself suggests the discounter will have to look there for its next big growth wave, since most every other market is already being developed. More than that, though, Wal-Mart has shown interest in Europe above and beyond the 1999 Asda acquisition. It also purchased Germany’s Wertkauf that year. It ended up selling the hypermarket chain in 2006 (for a loss), but it still let the growth cat out of the bag with the mere effort.
The most common hypothesis for the Wertkauf failure was that it simply wasn’t a big enough deal to give Wal-Mart an economy of scale. If Wal-Mart does come back to Europe, as it looks like it will, it’s going to come back in a huge way — especially now that several names in the fragmented market are struggling.
Already sitting on 10% of U.S. bank deposits thanks to a string of acquisitions of distressed foreign banks (the deposits still were denominated in U.S. dollars), Wells Fargo (NYSE:WFC) likely won’t be allowed to buy any more banks.
It will, however, continue to add to its insurance and investment/wealth management business by picking off smaller — and not too small — players in the European market. Last year, Wells Fargo nabbed the asset-based lending business of the Bank of Ireland (Burdale), and some assets from Allied Irish Bank. Deutsche Bank’s (NYSE:DB) asset management division is said to be next on the list.
It’s tough to step onto what looks like a sinking ship, but Europe has been sinking for months — it’s time to accept that the worst already has been priced in. Now it’s time to start betting on a rebound, especially now that the bleeding has stopped. These five names are U.S.-based ways to take on European exposure without going “all in” with a purely European name.
As of this writing, James Brumley did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.