Chart of the day, global equity market edition

By Felix Salmon
August 11, 2011
Michael McDonough.

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I love this global equity snapshot from Bloomberg’s Michael McDonough. For one thing, it clearly shows how European bourses are in much worse shape than those in the U.S. First look at the green dots in the little 52-week sparklines: the American and European highs weren’t all that far away from each other, chronologically speaking. And then look at the red dots: every exchange in Europe is hitting new 52-week lows, usually quite dramatically. By contrast, the U.S. indices all have their red dots over to the left: we still haven’t even dropped back to where we were a year ago.

A similar tale is told in the percentage-change columns. News headlines, of course, concentrate on what’s happened on a daily basis, with U.S. stocks down more than 4% and European stocks trading up on the day. But take a step back and the bigger picture is rather different: the sea of red, marking stock markets down more than 20% from their 52-week highs, is almost entirely European. And the biggest loser of all, the Italian market, is down a whopping 35%. If the Dow fell that much from its 52-week high, it’d be at 8,331, with the S&P at 887.

The lessons here, then, are firstly that if you spend your time looking at intraday stock-market movements on a country-by-country basis, it’s easy to miss what’s really going on. I’m in the UK right now, where there are lots of headlines about the plunging stock market, but no indication that it’s up there with Canada as the best-performing stock market in the world.

And secondly, the Eurozone is in serious trouble. Instead of looking at the amount that the markets have fallen from their highs, try looking at the degree to which they’ve recovered from their lows. The Euro Stoxx 50 hit a low of 1,809 on March 9, 2009; it’s rallied 18% since then. By contrast, the S&P 500 is up 101% from its March 2009 low: even after Wednesday afternoon’s swoon, it’s still at more than twice the level it closed at on March 5 of that year.

Does this mean that U.S. stocks simply have that much further to fall, before they catch up with their European counterparts? I suppose that’s one way of looking at it. But more realistically, the worst-case scenario for the U.S. is a double-dip recession; the worst-case scenario for the Eurozone, by contrast, is downright existential. Even on an up day today, the French banks are still seeing their shares marked down ever further. The very solvency of the Eurozone banking system in general, and the French banking system in particular, seems to be in doubt. U.S. banks don’t have that kind of European sovereign exposure, so we have a significant advantage on that front.

It might seem a bit like schadenfreude to take solace in the fact that other countries are much worse off than we are. But as the current stock-market volatility continues, it’s worth keeping such things in perspective. Europe is a global economic powerhouse; it can’t suffer these kind of woes without infecting the rest of the world somehow. And the U.S., in the grand scheme of things, seems — still — remarkably insulated from what’s going on across the Atlantic.

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