Together, these stories show that Italy is gaining attention in a way that it hadn't before. It was lumped together with other troubled counties via the PIGS acronym, but Italy was in the shadow of Greece, Spain and Portugal because Italy's situation isn't as bleak. The country's budget deficit is not far out of the bounds of the Maastricht Treaty, which limits annual deficits to 3%, and no one is looking for a sovereign default or a banking crisis.
Although Italy has mostly stayed out of the headlines, investors have been punishing the iShares MSCI Italy (EWI) ETF. Over the past three months, EWI is the second worst performing Europe ETF, ahead of only iShares MSCI Spain (EWP). In terms of long-term momentum, EWI is one of the weakest international country ETFs.
Going forward, EWI and EWP will be the most volatile European country ETFs in the near term. They are under pressure due to Greece's problems and should Greece fall, one or the other will become the next nation at the center of global attention, with a weaker euro dragging returns on all European assets.
On the flip side, some of this pressure is already priced into these ETFs. A positive outcome for Greece would be most bullish for EWI and EWP because negativity is already priced into shares. Over the past three months, for instance, the losses in EWI and EWP are about double those of iShares MSCI Belgium (EWK) (EWK).More broadly speaking, if Italy adds increasing weight to the worries of investors, it will add more selling pressure to the euro, which will drag on the returns of all ETFs holding assets priced in euros. -- Written by Don Dion in Williamstown, Mass.