Skip to main content

The Globe and Mail

Diversifying: What’s cheap, and what’s pricey

A Chinese woman (with umbrella) walks in between the new and old districts of Shanghai, October 31, 2002.


No matter their views of the future, good investors prepare for whatever it may bring. That's tough as yet another phase of the Europe-centred crisis unfolds. Diversifying is one way to be protected in tricky markets. And there are a few spots where basic valuation measures look off, even in an uncertain world, and so present opportunities. Here are a few ideas.

Sell German Bunds. Yields sank in the early part of the year as investors put safety first. Though they're still paltry at 1.5 per cent for 10-year paper, they have risen since the start of June. This might reflect fear that Berlin will be left to pick up the euro bond tab. Or it might suggest that Germany's debt could fall sharply in value as yields rise if a euro zone rescue restores confidence in riskier assets.

Buy commercial property. Leverage has tarnished the reputation of real estate. But rental yields approaching six per cent are now achievable, even if the best properties with the most reliable tenants offer a bit less. Still, these can be relatively secure assets with the prospect of inflation-protected income.

Story continues below advertisement

Sell European financial shares. The banks have lost 57 per cent of their value since the fall of Lehman Brothers. The forward-looking price-to-book value ratio for European banks is a mere 0.5, while the equivalent figure for U.S. banks is nearer parity. But being near the centre of the euro storm, they are cheap for a reason. The sector is the largest of 10 as defined by Thomson Reuters Starmine. A full weighting of 17 per cent in regional equity portfolios looks too high.

Buy Chinese equities. The MSCI China index, trading on a forward PE ratio of about eight times, is better value even than Europe. And the potential leaves the developed world deep in the shade. True, corporate governance headaches add to near-term growth doubts. But the Middle Kingdom's stocks offer reasonably priced exposure to what could soon be the world's strongest economic force.

Sell U.S. stocks. American economic sluggishness – demonstrated by weak job creation – has joined the euro and Asian growth on the short list of big investment worries. U.S. equities trade on a forward price-to-earnings ratio of about 12 times. That's below the 25 year average of around 15. But compared with the euro zone, where stocks trade on a forward multiple of 8.5 times, U.S. shares look expensive.

Report an error
As of December 20, 2017, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this resolved by the end of January 2018. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to