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Any Hope for Spain, Italy ETFs?

By Gary Gordon of

It began with the Thanksgiving Day surprise by Dubai World -- a wealth arm for the emirate of Dubai. Specifically, investors began to question whether or not a sovereign nation might default on its debt obligations.

Shortly thereafter, we began to hear the "PIIGS" acronym. The letters represent five countries with hideous balance sheets: Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain.

Greece has been the first to get the stink eye from both the general investing public and its European Union partners. Yet stock investors have wasted little time on reallocating assets, pulling out of the iShares MSCI Spain Index (EWP) and the iShares MSCI Italy Index (EWI) faster than a Mercedes racing along the Autobahn.

"Contagion" has spread throughout European equity markets. Not only has the decline in the euro caused investors to re-evaluate the currency risk of European holdings. But, investors compare GDP projections for developed markets in Europe against developed markets of Canada, Australia, the United States and Japan. Bluntly stated, Europe isn't keeping up with any of the developed country alternatives.

Can a case be made for euro ETFs? In truth, it's hard for me to make a case for Spain. The economic rain just keeps falling, from extreme unemployment (19.8%) to continued GDP contraction projected for the duration of 2010.

That said, a contrarian might view the pessimism as being "priced in." And as bad as the economy is, the projections are for improvement, not economic depression. (I'm not going there ... I'm just saying.)

As for Italy, unemployment isn't as harsh (7.8%), and its economy is expected to show GDP expansion that is slightly below that of the more potent economies of Germany, Norway and France. If the world begins to like the handling of Greece and/or turns its attention to U.S. debt issues, a stronger euro may propel Italian companies in the iShares MSCI Italy Fund.

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