The striking thing about European equity markets is how stable they are right now. EPS Momentum is mildly negative in most major markets, valuations are very similar and implied volatility is as expected, with Switzerland deemed least risky and Spain the most. More importantly, the country markets are trading relative to each other precisely as you would expect.
So where is the Brexit risk, the great fear that the UK will dive off a cliff should the population defy the European elites and vote to quit the European Union (note to editors, the UK would not be leaving Europe, which is not possible geographically). Equally, where is the fear that a UK exit after the June 23rd vote will lead to a tailspin for European markets. Answer; there isn’t any.
In OTAS we track three month implied volatility more than any other duration. We do this because there is plenty of liquidity at this point relative to at other times. As of April 11, we are less than three months from the UK vote and hence today’s numbers reflect perceptions about where markets will trade on the other side of the decision.
The chart above represents the strongest evidence of a Brexit effect, in that implied volatility (read uncertainty) for leading UK shares is slightly above the average range over the past two years relative to France. This, however, is a relative rating, and the implied volatility of the two markets is very similar. Option traders expect UK stocks to be +/-14% by July 8 and French ones to be +/-14.5%. So uncertainty is marginally greater in France.
Over the same time, traders expect Spanish stocks will be +/-18%, Italian +/-17%, German +/-13% and Swiss +/-11%. This is how these markets line up next to one another most of the time, except when there are perceived problems on the horizon. What is more, the current level of volatility is in the average range of the last two years, having been much higher in February, before the date of the UK vote was announced.
Stock market valuations are normal as well, safely in the average range, where you would expect relative to one another and at very similar levels. France, Italy and Spain trade on 15x 12 months’ forward earnings, the UK on 16x alongside Switzerland, and Germany on its typical slightly lower rating of 14x due to the composition of its more cyclical stock market. The UK has re-rated relative to Europe so far this year and not because EPS Momentum has fallen relative to elsewhere. If anything, the UK market is looking toppy.
What is behind the complete absence of Brexit panic in stock markets? One answer is concerted and coordinated central bank action to crush volatility. Another is that the world has bigger problems, in terms of an economic slowdown precipitated by nearly two years of falling global trade volumes, than the possible changes in an inward-looking Europe. A third is that those people who put money on these matters, day-in, day-out, do not think that anything very much will change whether the UK is in the EU, or votes to leave.