If the bailout flops, the options quickly get messy. I don’t see the EU backing down this time and watering down the deal, nor do I see the European Central Bank continuing to provide emergency liquidity. This means that without the bailout, the Cypriot banking system will collapse, and given that the banking system is eight times larger than the economy, there is no way that Cyprus will be able to make its depositors whole. Barring some sort of last-minute emergency loan from Russia (which would presumably come with some pretty wicked strings attached), Cyprus either accepts the EU bailout and goes about its business or it drops the euro, issues a new currency, and then falls into hyperinflationary oblivion.What does this mean for the Eurozone? The fear was that seizing bank deposits would set a terrible precedent and lead to bank runs in Spain, Italy and other indebted countries and plunge us back into crisis mode. Once bank depositors are seen as a viable target, you create a slippery slope. But judging by the market’s reaction, this is a non-event. European stocks took a small hit on the news, though it caused nothing like the turmoil over Greece, Spain and Italy last year. Bond yields in these problem countries spiked up but hardly to levels that would cause alarm. There are a couple reasons why the bank run didn’t happen…or at least hasn’t happened yet. To start, Spain and Italy already effectively had bank runs last year. Funds have been leaking out of both since the onset of the crisis, and their respective banking systems have been kept solvent by the ECB. But more basically, it’s an open secret that Cyprus is a haven for dirty money (wink wink), and investors see clear differences between their own banking systems and that of Cyprus.
There is also the “Draghi Put,” or the belief that ECB President Mario Draghi will live up to his word to do “whatever it takes” to keep the euro intact. This, more than anything, has been what has stabilized the Eurozone over the past nine months.And finally, don’t underestimate the effects of “crisis fatigue.” After three years of crisis, these sorts of headlines simply don’t have the ability to move the market like they used to. Things could still get very ugly very fast in Europe if the feared contagion finally does happen. But for now, it looks as though this too shall pass. Cyprus may choose to leave the Eurozone before this is over or may well become a Russian client state; anything is possible at this point. But I don’t see any of these outcomes changing the direction of events. The Eurozone will undergo deeper integration. With or without Cyprus, the rest of the Eurozone will sink or swim together. This makes things a little awkward for non-Eurozone EU members like the UK, Sweden and Demark. But even as the cumbersome, confusing mess it is, the Eurozone will muddle through. How are we to invest in this environment? I'm using any sell-offs to accumulate shares of some of Europe’s finest companies. One in particular I like at current prices is Spanish telecom giant Telefonica (NYSE:TEF). Telefonica is quietly paying down its debts, and I expect the company to reinstate its dividend within the next 1-2 years. In the meantime, I believe it's an excellent way to gain exposure to the growing markets of Latin America, where it obtains more than half its revenues. Image: LaRezistance The investments discussed are held in client accounts as of February 28, 2013. These investments may or may not be currently held in client accounts. The reader should not assume that any investments identified were or will be profitable or that any investment recommendations or investment decisions we make in the future will be profitable.
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