Greece, Russia and Italy have been the top performing stock markets in Europe in 2019 – a year marked by political and economic uncertainty across the world.
Some investors dismissed these markets as “too dangerous, too politically unstable, too reliant on commodities, too weak economically or a combination of all four,” Russ Mould, investment director at AJ Bell, a U.K. investment platform, said in a note this month.
“But this just goes to show that buying what is comfortable is rarely the route to big profits,” Mould said.
It was once Europe’s sick man, but the southern European country seems to have entered a new chapter. Greece’s main index rose 43% in 2019 – making it the top performer in Europe and across the world.
“Greek economic growth accelerated in 2019, thanks to recovering government spending and reviving investment coupled with a healthy exports outlook,” Athanasia Kokkinogeni, Europe senior analyst at the research firm DuckerFrontier, told CNBC via email last week..
2019 proved particularly good for shares of Greek banks. Piraeus Bank rose more than 250%, National Bank of Greece surged 171%; while Alpha Bank’s shares increased 71% and Eurobank’s grew 67%.
Greece put an end to capital controls in 2019 and the government introduced “Hercules,” a program aimed at allowing lenders to repackage bad loans.
Furthermore, Mike Bell, global markets strategy at JP Morgan Asset Management, told CNBC that the European Central Bank (ECB) also helped Greece. A new round of quantitative easing (QE) in the euro zone reduced borrowing costs “dramatically.” At the same time, he also added that there were no negative stories in 2019 about Greece in comparison with previous years, mainly at the height of the sovereign debt crisis.
A new center-right and pro-business government was also elected in July. Greek government bond yields fell further after the election of Kyriakos Mitsotakis.
Moscow’s main index rose 29% in 2019 – a year marked by fiscal loosening.
“Russia emerged from a recession, helped by interest rate cuts and the carefully crafted policies of its respected central bank head, Elvira Nabiullina,” Mould from AJ Bell said.
The Russian central bank announced “significant interest rate cuts” since June, the International Monetary Fund said in November. The Bank of Russia announced another cut to its key rate in December to 6.25% per annum.
News in the corporate sector also boosted the MOEX. Gazprom announced a significant increase in its dividend payments and certain international sanctions were also lifted.
In Rome, despite divergences with Brussels and a snap election, Italy’s FTSE MIB rose 28% in 2019.
“Many investors have given up on Western Europe, citing concerns over Brexit, trade wars, weak coalition governments, mounting debts and the apparent inability of the
European Central Bank to conjure the growth and inflation that it craves. But more interest rate cuts and QE from the ECB looks to be granting Italy yet another reprieve,” Mould from AJ Bell said in a note.