When people mention the phrase "Greek economy," one immediately thinks of chaos, collapse and economic stagnation. The country is in a huge economic and political mess. No one really knows what the future of the country will look like. However, there have been countries in far worse straits.
In 1945, Germany was a country teeming with refugees on the verge of starvation. Nearly every large city had been totaled by Allied bombing raids. The country was broke, and the feature looked bleak. Not only was the economy nonexistent, but many wanted Germany to remain poor to prevent a third world war. The country was put under the occupation of the British, French, Americans and Russians.
During World War II, Germany had a functioning, active stock market. By the end of the world, the stock market had dropped approximately 90%. Coincidently, the Greek stock market has also dropped approximately 90% over the past few years.
Despite the misery in Greece, the country is still number 32 in terms of GDP per capita. The country has a strong shipping and tourism sector. People of Greek descent are leaders in their fields all over the world. Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, and Jim Chanos, the famous short seller, both have Greek roots.
No one knows whether Greece will remain in the Euro or revert to its former currency, the Drachma. But who cares? Greece joined the Euro in 2001. From 2001-2007, Greece’s GDP grew at an annual rate of 4.1%, higher than the eurozone average. Before Greece joined the euro, it also had some impressive growth numbers. From 1960-1970, the country had growth rates of 8.4% per year. The following decade it averaged growth rates close to 5%.
What makes the Greek stock market so interesting is how cheap it is. Greek stocks are trading at a price-earnings ratio (PE) of four, based on Morgan Stanley estimates. By contrast, the S&P 500 is trading at a PE close to four times that number. Based on almost every conventional valuation metric, Greek stocks are trading at lower than any price U.S. stocks have every traded at in history.
In 1949, the German stock market reopened in Frankfurt. Investors in German stocks were likely thought of as crazy. However, over the next 10 years, the German stock market went up over 4,000%. It is possible that Greece could repeat this performance. Nothing is certain, and there could be tremendous volatility, but Greek stocks could be the biggest steal since 1949.
(Disclosure: The author of this article owns the ETF GREK, which tracks the 20 largest companies on the Greek stock market)
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