Believe it or not, Italy is the best performing stock market in the G7 so far this year

Sky-high returns in Milan.
Sky-high returns in Milan.
Image: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini
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Investors faith in Europe’s economic recovery has made stocks in Italy the best performers in the G7 so far this year. Forgotten, it seems, are worries that Italy’s fragile banking system could blow up the euro zone. Set aside are concerns of how disgruntled Italians are with the euro, in general.

Italy’s benchmark stock index, the FTSE MIB, has gained more than 14% this year in local-currency terms, besting the US S&P 500’s 11% rise, as well as less perky performances in other markets. Given the euro’s performance against the dollar, Italy’s gain is even more impressive in dollar terms, up 27% so far this year.

Benefitting from a resurgence in the European economy, consumer stocks have climbed more than 20% this year, says Mike Bell, a global market strategist at JPMorgan Asset Management. But what’s having the biggest impact on Italy’s stock market is the stellar performance of financial firms. Despite three banks receiving state bailouts in the past year, Italian bank stocks have climbed almost 30% in 2017. The market also benefits from rising off a lower base, as investors were (rightfully) wary of Italian stocks until recently.

In the US, impressive company earnings recently pushed the Dow index above 22,000 for the first time ever. With 84% of the firms in the S&P 500 reporting second-quarter results, aggregate earnings growth is up by 10%, compared with a 3% decline in the same quarter last year.

While Donald Trump tries to take credit for the stock market gains, most traders have low expectations that his administration will be able to pass the tax, infrastructure, and deregulation policies promised early in his term. ”It’s just an earnings story,” Bell says. “I don’t think you’ve got any fiscal stimulus hopes baked in there at all, really. That provides a potential upside risk were they to manage to legislate any kind of tax cuts. But it’s not part of our base case that they do.”

Meanwhile, somewhat surprisingly, Canada languishes at the bottom of the table of stock-market performance. Even though its economy started the year stronger than any other G7 country, losses in the energy industry have dragged the country’s index down this year.