By Julien Ponthus and Danilo Masoni
LONDON (Reuters) – An elusive domestic economic recovery and a hit to supply chains from China’s coronavirus epidemic mean prospects for European stocks this year are modest and vulnerable to any further spread of the disease that has already killed thousands.
A Reuters poll of nearly 30 fund managers, strategists and brokers surveyed over the past two weeks found the pan-European STOXX 600 <.STOXX> is expected to reach 433 points by the end of 2020 — up 6.9% from Tuesday’s close of 404.6 points but just below its record peak, hit earlier this month.
Most respondents answered the poll before Monday when European stocks suffered their biggest slump since mid-2016 as a jump in coronavirus cases in Italy, South Korea, Japan and Iran spooked investors.
“The rising impact of the coronavirus crisis on stocks may alter the outlook on the very short-term basis,” said Pierre Veyret, global asset analyst at ActivTrades.
“Investors and businesses fear the contagion will spread further into the second quarter which could cause disruption in many industries, with miners, carmakers and tech companies on the frontline.
“The real impact on economies remains hard to gauge and this uncertainty will prompt investors to hedge their portfolios, with safe havens as well as other alternative investing options, against a downside risk on risky assets,” Veyret added.
The STOXX 600 hit a record high of 433.9 points on Feb. 19 but Monday’s sell-off has pushed the European benchmark back below this year’s opening level.
The initial coronavirus outbreak in China did not derail the European bull run, as investors continued to put their faith in ultra-loose monetary policy across the globe and economists bet on a “V-shaped” recovery.
But the fear of a global pandemic has clouded the picture. The virus has seen Chinese cities put into lockdown, disrupted air traffic and blocked global supply chains for everything from cars and car parts to smartphones.
Italy too took unprecedented measures after Europe’s fourth-largest economy became the third most affected country in the world by number of coronavirus infections.
Disappointing business indicators and any deterioration in the earnings outlook for Europe, Inc. after what is set to be a fourth straight quarter of falling profits could also weigh.
“Given lackluster growth in the region as well as soft economic data not really improving, I do not envision the EU market to perform this year — quite the opposite,” said Stephane Ekolo, equity strategist at TFS Derivatives.
Among other indexes, Germany’s trade-sensitive DAX <.GDAXI> index is expected to reach a record high of 14,000 points by the end of 2020, up 5.7% from 2019, while France’s CAC 40 <.FCHI> and Italy’s FTSE MIB <.FTMIB> are both seen gaining 4%.
The euro zone’s blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 <.STOXX50E> index is expected to finish the year up 7.8% from Tuesday’s close at 3,850.
(Graphic: European stocks – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/13/2491/2459/STOXX%20600.png)
(Reporting by Julien Ponthus and Thyagaraju Adinarayan in London and Danilo Masoni in Milan; Additional polling by Mumal Rathore and Tushar Goenka in Bengaluru; Editing by Catherine Evans)