Rare Glimmers of Hope for Troubled European Equity Markets

Good news seems in short supply at the moment in the European equity markets.

Some analysts are predicting a bigger than normal traditional summer trading lull, while the London Stock Exchange last week said that the trading environment is still weak and that trading will remain sluggish for the coming months.

The FTSE 100, London’s leading shares index, has slipped over 2.5% since the start of the year on continuing eurozone sovereign debt fears and the seeming lack of an anti-austerity ‘Plan B’ to move some European economies out of their double-dip recessions. The eurozone’s blue chip Euro STOXX 50, meanwhile, has recorded double-digit year-to-date losses with only Germany’s DAX 30, out of Europe’s other major national blue chip indexes, recording a year-to-date rise so far this year.

However, there may be some respite on the horizon as markets appear to be steadily picking up. The FTSE 100, for example, has risen by around 5% since the start of June, despite losing almost 2% today, while central banks across Europe are adding stimulus measures to support their flagging economies.

“We’ve seen an increase in both trading and size of executions recently and we’re slowly seeing liquidity coming back,” Per Loven, head of international corporate strategy at Liquidnet Europe, a buy-side focused block trading dark pool operator, told Markets Media.

“In an overall period of very low volumes, the last few days have been good. This is encouraging. It is too early to suggest any type of trend, but we are seeing a cautious level of more positive inflows to the equities market.”

Others, though, believe it will take more than just a couple of good trading days in Europe to provoke a return to the pre-crisis bull markets of yesteryear. But there are signs of optimism, if you look hard enough.

“European equities rely on the rest of the world for a sustainable upturn, but unfortunately the rest of the world is taking an extended breather,” said Robert Quinn, chief European equity strategist at S&P Capital IQ Equity Research, the data, research and analytics provider.

Quinn, nonetheless, thinks that a modicum of order is returning to some markets and is predicting an upturn before the year is out.

“It does appear that activity levels may be close to stabilizing in some European countries, with June’s Purchasing Managers Index Composite for the eurozone settling at 46.4 [a reading of 50 indicates an equal number of respondents reporting ‘better conditions’ and ‘worse conditions’], while U.K. manufacturing also recovered ground after May’s slump. It is our expectation that the current contraction will stretch through the third quarter with challenging markets over the summer months, followed by an uptick in the fourth quarter of 2012.”