Confused About What's Going on in Europe? Here are the Need to Know Basics

Wall Street is dancing to Greece's (and by extension Europe's) whistle. If Greece says 'jump,' Wall Street jumps, if Greece says 'Sorry, false alarm,' Wall Street cries.

This sorry dance has been going on for nearly two years. Like an endless loop of chicken dance, this may be fun at first (about 2 minutes) but gets old real fast. If you are tired of Wall Street's 'chicken dance coverage' and want to know what's really going on and how to make money (or protect your assets), here's a no nonsense assessment of Europe.

Greece - Fool Me Once ...

Fool me once, shame on Greece, fool me twice, shame on me. Greece has been the scapegoat for every major sell off and catalyst for most rallies and dead cat bounces since January 2010.

Shame on you if you think everything's going to be hunky-dory just because Greece and/or its European pretend-to-be saviors announce another plan to come up with a plan.

The Problem

Here's the problem: Greece is broke and Greece has no significant revenue sources to pay off its debt. Foreign investors own about $385 billion worth of Greek government debt.

Many banks and governments that own Greek debt are at the brink of insolvency already, so Greece's inability to pay its debt may push other countries and their banks into a Greece-like position (that's called contagion).

Misleading Information

You can't trust statements from European officials because they are trying to prevent panic. Panic will make any kind of solutions more expensive and more difficult to execute.

Luxembourg's Prime Minister (also Chairman of regular eurozone meetings) blatantly admitted that: 'When it becomes serious, you have to lie.'

Obviously no political leader wants the eurozone to fall apart on their watch, so they pretend and extend and kick the can down the road far enough for it become someone else's problem (someone else will inevitably include rosy-eyed investors).

This postpones the inevitable, but the portfolios of investors who are faithful enough to trust such assessments suffer a death of thousand cuts. Just imagine where your portfolio would be if you sold everything when Greece first announced it had some 'minor' fiscal problems. Like tearing a bandage off a hairy leg, slower is more painful.

You also can't trust the media because they profit from sensationalist headlines, not sound investment advice. If that means they have to spoon-feed a consistent diet of 'Stocks bounce on hopes for a Europe fix' followed by 'Stocks plummet on fears over Europe,' then that's what they'll do. Fortunately we can choose not to partake from the junk food dished out by the media.

On a different note, have you noticed how bad news (such as downgrades) is reported after the close (particularly Fridays), while good news (or even just good rumors) are reported while the markets are open.

The (Only?) Plan

Let's just be realistic and just admit that Greece is as good as bankrupt. The country just doesn't have enough income to pay its debt load and keep the country functioning properly without outside financial support.

Eventually Greece's saviors will realize that this is a leaky bucket-like money pit. A sudden and unprepared Greek bankruptcy would shatter the eurozone unless Greece is quarantined first. The goal here would be to sequester ripple effects that would cripple Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Spain and whoever else is hiding in the closet.

Doing this wouldn't be cheap. To prepare for a such a quarantine (which is a more diplomatic term than ejection) from the eurozone, Europe (via the EFSF) would have to prepare and fund a fund that can pay for:

1) Defaulting Greek government debt

2) Shoring up banks that won't qualify for inter-bank credit

2) Make sure Italy and the next dominos in line are safe

Statfor Global Intelligence estimates the price tag to be about - drum roll - $3 trillion. The chart below visually explains the above-described process. Can Europe scrape together $3 trillion?

Doomed if You Do, Doomed if You Don't

I don't think it matters much, because the above plan doesn't take into account human emotions, panic, in particular. European banks' deposits at the European Central Bank (ECB) have already mushroomed. This means that already one bank doesn't trust another bank with their money.

The combination of liquidity drying up and assets imploding is a lethal one. What about those saying 'Things aren't that bad.'

Just consider Dexia. Dexia past the European bank stress test with flying colors but still had to be rescued. Dexia is supposed to be rescued partially by the country of Belgium, but Belgium's national debt is already 100% of GDP. Depending on Dexia's actual losses, Belgium's national debt may soar to 120% of GDP just by having to bail out one bank. Do you know how many banks there are in Europe?

How To Make (or Protect Your) Money

The ETF Profit Strategy Newsletter doesn't specialize on European coverage, but it's provided some much needed common sense. On March 18, 2010 it stated that: 'Until now financial problems in various European countries have been minimized and swept under the carpet. The sub-prime crisis took more than a few weeks to rattle Wall Street. Chances are the investing world will need a bit more time to catch on to what really is happening with sovereign debt overseas.'

On July 17, the ETF Profit Strategy Newsletter recommended to short the iShares MSCI EAFE (NYSEAra: EFA) and iShares MSCI Emerging Markets (NYSEArca: EEM). Over the next couple weeks, EFA lost 22% and EEM 39%.

Under the headline 'Prepare for Bottom Fishing,' the newsletter recommended on September 23 to prepare for a market bottom and stated that: 'European stock market may get some relief over the next weeks/month. The same is true for EFA and EEM. Those markets are temperamental and will therefore bounce higher than U.S. stocks when the rally materializes. Aggressive investors may add some European/emerging or BRIC market exposure to their portfolio once we start buying U.S. stocks.'

We bought U.S. stocks on October 4 at S&P 1,088. The October 2 ETF Profit Strategy update outlined the ideal market bottom as follows: 'The ideal market bottom would see the S&P dip below 1,088 intraday followed by a strong recovery and a close above 1,088' and recommended to buy as soon as the S&P moved back above 1,088.

The S&P (SNP: ^GSPC), Dow Jones (DJI: ^DJI) and Nasdaq (Nasdaq: ^IXIC) are up well over 10%, the VIX (Chicago Options: ^VIX) down over 35% since. The Vanguard MSCI Europe ETF (NYSEArca: VGK) is up over 16% while Wall Street is scratching its head over what just happened. How could the S&P soar 145 points in five trading days?

Wall Street was busy worrying about Europe and didn't realize that sentiment had become extremely pessimistic while the S&P had dropped to crucial support. The October 2 ETF Profit Strategy update pointed out that 1,088 is not only important Fibonacci support, but was also this month's and week's pivot and was almost certain to offer support.

What's Next?

I expect a rocky road ahead for the next weeks. That's why we have closed out all long positions and will be patient for the next clear profit opportunity. Hopefully the common sense approach to financial problems combined with technical analysis will guide us well.

The ETF Profit Strategy Newsletter provides an out-of-the box analysis of the stock market along with actionable ETF profit strategies and simple, straightforward short, mid and long-term forecasts. Updates are provides twice a week.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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