The ongoing debt crisis in Greece has dominated the attention of international investors in recent weeks. As the situation wavers between merely worrisome to potentially destabilizing, all eyes are on Europe as the European Commission and the International Monetary Fund consider ways to keep the crisis from rippling across the rest of the continent. Unfortunately, even the specter of default or further economic upheaval has prompted many to redirect their investment dollars away from the continent.
According to a recent Bank of America/Merrill Lynch survey of fund managers, the eurozone is fast becoming a no-fly zone -- and not because of any volcanic ash. A mere five months ago, Europe was viewed as one of the most attractive global plays, but the Greek debt debacle has caused money managers to sour on the region. The survey indicates that global managers now have a net 18% underweighting to eurozone equities. Instead, managers are jumping on the Japan bandwagon, with a net 12% overweighting to Japanese stocks, up from a net underweight positioning just two months ago.
Investors are right to be a bit wary with respect to the European continent. The Greek issue has the potential to infect the rest of the continent and snuff out a nascent global recovery. Of course, such a worse-case scenario would hardly leave the U.S. unscathed, either. But European nations and the IMF are pretty much tied into providing rescue for Greece to fend off the crisis from creeping further into Europe. However, each day, the magnitude of the problem appears to grow, with recent estimates showing that Greece will need at least $108 billion to avoid default. So are money managers on to something by fleeing Europe and heading for Japan?
Global investors can't afford to ignore Japan -- it is, after all, the second largest economy behind the United States (third if you count the European Union as a single unit). That means all foreign investors should have at least some representation here. Japan lacks the red-hot firepower of its emerging neighbors, such as China, but is also home to several blue-chip companies with tremendous market share. If you're looking for a safe haven in Japan, carmaker Honda Motor
Although the prospects for much of the European continent are grim, there are still pockets of opportunity. It may make sense to cut back on overall European exposure, but you really can't shun this region entirely. France and Switzerland have heavy exposure to Greek debt, but Germany has avoided making such large bets. The German economy is arguably the strongest in Europe right now, and although it could end up saddled with debt once a Greece bailout comes to pass, it should still be in a much better economic position than much of the continent.
Investors should look for stable companies with the financial strength to make it through potentially shaky times ahead. Siemens
Close to home
Of course, if the goings-on in Greece have you nervous about global prospects, there is another place you can stash your cash -- in U.S. equities. The United States wouldn't be immune from the effects of a Greek default, but many money managers are suddenly discovering that U.S. stocks are potentially less risky than many of their European counterparts. I think information technology is likely to outperform in the near future as companies finally open their wallets for necessary upgrades, so investors might want to do some fishing in those waters.
The trick is to find reasonably valued tech names, which is much more difficult than finding flashy ones. Amazon.com
Time will tell how the Greek debt crisis will be resolved, but I would imagine a rescue plan of some kind will be put forth, and it will probably need to be implemented over a period of a year or more. Even if the crisis is handled fairly quickly and without further significant economic damage, investing in much of Europe may be a riskier proposition for some time to come. Investors would be wise to adjust their risk levels accordingly and make sure they have worldwide exposure to reduce the ill effects of any further disruptions from this corner of the globe.
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Amanda Kish is the Fool's resident fund advisor for the Rule Your Retirement investment newsletter service. At the time of publication, she didn't own any of the funds or companies mentioned herein. Amazon.com is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft, which is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.