Europe or Anti-Europe?

MILAN – A knowledgeable friend in Milan recently asked me the following question: “If an outside investor, say, from the United States, wanted to invest a substantial sum in the Italian economy, what would you advise?” I replied that, although there are many opportunities to invest in companies and sectors, the overall investment environment is complicated. I would recommend investing alongside a knowledgeable domestic partner, who can navigate the system, and spot partly hidden risks.

Of course, the same advice applies to many other countries as well, such as China, India, and Brazil. But the eurozone is increasingly turning into a two-speed economic bloc, and the potential political ramifications of this trend are amplifying investors’ concerns.

At a recent meeting of high-level investment advisers, one of the organizers asked everyone if they thought the euro would still exist in five years. Only one person out of 200 thought that it would not – a rather surprising collective assessment of the trending risks, given Europe’s current economic situation.

Right now, Italy’s real (inflation-adjusted) GDP is roughly at its 2001 level. Spain is doing better, but its real GDP is still around where it was in 2008, just prior to the financial crisis. And Southern European countries, including France, have experienced extremely weak recoveries and stubbornly high unemployment – in excess of 10%, and much higher for people younger than 30.