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Rising anti-migrant feelings in Europe have been blamed on the sluggish economic recovery after the 2007-09 global financial crisis, but population trends show that Europe actually needs more, not fewer, immigrants.
Investors consequently would do well to look to countries that manage to integrate migrants as sources of future growth and gain some exposure to their assets. This year's political turmoil in Europe could turn out to be a good opportunity to put some funds to work for the longer term.
The list is, unfortunately, quote short. The first on the list of countries that could benefit from the influx of refugees is the eurozone's engine itself: Germany.
Demographic data show Europe is aging rapidly. In this light, you can begin to understand why Germany's Angela Merkel welcomed nearly 1 million young people to her country in the past couple years. The median age in Germany is 45.9, and Germans are not getting any younger. As a consequence, the United Nations forecasts that the country's population will decline to around 74.5 million by 2050 from around 80 million today.
Data from Eurostat, the European Union's statistics body, show that across the whole of the European Union the percentage of people age 65 or over in the whole population was 18.9% in 2015, an increase of 2.3% compared with 10 years earlier. Italy, with 21.7%, Germany with 21%, and Greece with 20.9% had the highest shares of the over-65 age group in their populations. The median age across the whole of the EU was 42.4 in 2015.
Critics have said that Germany will find it difficult to integrate the refugees. However, a study by the Kiel Institute for the World Economy quoted by German newspaper Bild said 410,000 refugees will have jobs by the end of 2018, while of the 396,000 who are not working, 192,000 will be signed up for various labor market programs.
A report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that refugees in Germany are often overqualified, more so than in the rest of the EU. The report found that 71% of refugees in Germany are overqualified for their work, compared to the EU average of 60%. This means that as these people get a firmer grasp of German, they can move over time into higher-paid jobs or create innovative businesses.
For the moment, at least, the German economy seems to be needing more, not fewer, workers: Unemployment in Germany fell to a record low of 5.9% in January, while analysts had forecast it would remain steady at 6%.
Data out on Wednesday showed Germany's manufacturing sector growth hit a three-year high in January, according to IHS Markit. Even more important, the pace of hiring was the most marked since August 2011. The larger workforce failed to alleviate pressure on capacity, with backlogs increasing for the 24th successive month. This finding suggests that the high migration did not affect the job market.
But tension is rising ahead of the parliamentary elections in October, with extremist parties trying to stoke fear and distrust of the newcomers. Germany is a country to watch closely, because the future of the whole of Europe depends on its success. For investors seeking general exposure to the country, the iShares MSCI Germany ETF (EWG) - Get Report is a good way to start, as it captures the top 85% of German companies by market cap.
Sweden, a country that is not in the eurozone, has taken in more refugees per capita than any other EU country and has made a success of it. The country's economy expanded by 4.5% in the fourth quarter of 2015, at the height of the refugee influx, due to a consumer spending boom and a surge in house building to accommodate the newcomers.
The country's population is set to exceed 10 million this year, from 9 million just a few years ago, mainly due to migration. Statistics Sweden, quoted in a Bloomberg article, said migration will be the main driver for population growth between now and 2040; it put the number of arrivals per year at a little under 120,000 between 2016 and 2019, then falling gradually to 60,000 annually and to below 40,000 by the end of the period.
For those seeking to invest in Sweden, the iShares MSCI Sweden Capped ETF (EWD) - Get Report is a good place to start their research. It tracks a market-cap-weighted index of Swedish stocks, encompassing the top 85% of companies by market cap.
In the EU, Germany and Sweden have been perhaps the most successful countries in integrating the refugees. In other countries, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe but also in the U.K., refugees have been met with resistance despite the rapid aging of the local populations.
More than half of the refugees into Europe are 18 to 34; if you add the children and teenagers that came with them, the proportion of young people among the total refugee population reaches 80%. These people are an asset, not a liability for the EU. The sooner politicians understand this and stop pandering to nationalist feelings, the better the economic regeneration will be.
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