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Despite yielding its spot atop the headlines to the ongoing oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, Europe's economic woes are still very much on the minds of investors around the world. With the coordinated effort of the International Monetary Fund and EU governments to fund a trillion-dollar relief package that rivals the 2008 stimulus bill in the U.S., the question you should be asking is whether European financial markets have further to fall or offer a huge buying opportunity at today's lower prices.
Looking across the ocean
This month's new issue of the Fool's Rule Your Retirement newsletter, which will be available to subscribers this afternoon at 4 p.m. Eastern time, includes a discussion of some of the problems that plague Europe and the moves that some renowned professional money managers are making to try to profit from the situation. What started out as a seemingly minor problem in Greece has ballooned well beyond its original scope to threaten collateral damage around the continent. Even though recent downgrades of Spain's sovereign debt weren't unexpected -- some critics even considered them overdue -- they brought home to investors the fact that problems in Europe are widespread and that they aren't likely to get completely resolved anytime soon.
So what are the money pros doing? Among the managers that Foolish mutual fund expert Amanda Kish looks at in the new issue is John Hussman, who manages the Hussman Strategic Growth Fund (FUND: HSGFX ) .
What have you done for me lately?
Hussman's fund is a somewhat unusual one. Unlike many more traditional mutual funds, Hussman Strategic Growth is a long-short fund, which is authorized both to buy stocks and to take short positions. As a result, the fund's performance looks much different from most stock mutual funds.
In particular, Hussman has seen results nearly opposite of the stock market's over the past two years. In 2008, the fund had amazing relative performance, losing only 9% of its value in a year in which the S&P dropped by 37%. It even milked gains from its investment in Netflix, which found ideal conditions for growth even among a recession. Hussman also managed to sell shares of Freeport-McMoRan at a profit before the commodity bubble burst.
Last year, however, the fund mostly missed out on the market's rally, gaining less than 5%. Hussman admitted to "underestimat[ing] the extent to which Wall Street would … drive stocks to the point where they are now not only overvalued again, but strikingly dependent on a sustained economic recovery and the achievement and maintenance of record profit margins in the years ahead." Although the fund did manage to ride Amazon.com and Research In Motion to substantial gains during the year, huge losses from hedge-related options positions wiped out much of the profits from the stock side in the second half of 2009.
What Hussman's buying
Hussman is no optimist about the prospects for the markets generally. But he's still finding some appealing investments among European stocks. In particular, he has recently bought shares of pharma companies AstraZeneca (NYSE: AZN ) and Novartis (NYSE: NVS ) , both of which get more than half of their revenue from the U.S. and elsewhere outside Europe. He also sees Germany's software giant SAP (NYSE: SAP ) as a promising opportunity, as well as Israeli Check Point Software Technologies (Nasdaq: CHKP ) , which has a substantial business presence in Europe. Analysts see solid growth from both software companies in the coming years despite European turmoil.
Hussman's approach demonstrates how you can take advantage of the global economy to hedge regional risks. It's not enough to focus on where a particular company happens to have its headquarters; instead, you need to look at where the company's doing the bulk of its business. For example, Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM ) and Activision Blizzard (Nasdaq: ATVI ) are both based in the U.S., but they each get nearly half their revenue from Europe. Conversely, when investors sell "European stocks" indiscriminately, it's for the wrong reason, and some stocks end up with attractive price reductions that have little to do with their future prospects.
As you'd expect, some other money managers are taking different approaches toward what's happening in Europe. In her article in the Rule Your Retirement issue, Amanda also looks at a manager who thinks the whole crisis is being overblown.
To learn more about Hussman, Europe, and how to profit from the crisis, Amanda's article is definitely worth a look. If you're not already a subscriber, take the opportunity to have a free look with a 30-day trial subscription. You'll find a wealth of resources aimed at making you a better investor for the long haul. With potential troubles in Europe and around the world, staying aware of how smart investors are protecting themselves is more important than ever.
Is America headed the way of Greece? Chuck Saletta takes a critical look at what's in store for the U.S. and where you can invest to sidestep future trouble.