Future winners of the European Championship

11th June 2012

But which country could be a surprise winner by the time we get to 2016 when yet more teams are added to the mix – not just in football, but in investment terms?

Few games in the European soccer championships currently illustrate the continent's shifting fortunes better than this.

"Poland, the host of the quadrennial tournament with Ukraine and the fastest-growing economy in the European Union, takes on Greece, the epicentre of the debt crisis that's afflicting every one of the group's 27 members. Soccer fans from Athens to Thessaloniki are counting on a little respite," says Business Week.

Meanwhile, Investment Week stresses that fund managers already talk about the ‘Battle of the Uglies' – investors taking flight and hiding in the least risky countries (the US, UK or Germany).

However, for the next three weeks the battle of the uglies will be fought out on pitches across the Ukraine and Poland.

Originally started in 1960, three years after the formation of what became the EU, the soccer championships this year involve a Europe that is divided more than at any time since the collapse of communist rule in 1989.

So who knows what shape Europe will take by 2016…

But with the traditional hot spots in Europe are under fire, and more teams set to take part, which might investors back as future winners?

For example, while not in the football championships, Estonia boasts among the fastest economic growth in the EU. This prompted arguments on Twitter this week with the President of Estonia appeared to slam New York Times columnist Paul Krugman as "smug, overbearing & patronizing."

Estonia enjoys a budget surplus after enduring harsh austerity measures. Krugman argued in a short blog that Estonia, "the poster child for austerity defenders," had only achieved an incomplete recovery.

However, sixteen months after it joined the struggling currency bloc, Estonia is booming. The economy grew 7.6% last year – five times the euro-zone average. It is the only euro-zone country with a budget surplus. National debt is just 6% of GDP, compared to 81% in virtuous Germany, or 165% in Greece.

It all seems a long way from the gloom elsewhere in Europe.

Estonia's achievement is all the more remarkable when you consider that it was one of the countries hardest hit by the global financial crisis. In 2008-2009, its economy shrank by 18%.

There are some economic teams that might be worth backing that are currently part of the champhionships. Poland is, by some measures, the strongest economy in Europe, says this report by the OECD.

In 2008 and 2009 Poland was the only country in Europe whose economy didn't shrink. It has low debt, a young, educated workforce and is now creating new jobs faster than virtually everywhere else on the continent.

But what we're wondering for now is – Who is going to win this year's tournament?

To boost morale during economic storms this should surely be Spain, Portugal, Ireland or Greece – they have the most economic problems. However, it appears Spain, champion at the last tournament, is the only one of the four with a real chance of victory.

The Channel 4 news blog says: "It is rather striking that the last four major international football tournaments have been won by Spain (2010, 2008), Italy (2006), and Greece (2004).

"All five troubled eurozone nations have qualified. For economics, it all goes to show that there is no long run connection between winning a major tournament and long term growth, in fact the reverse appears to be true.

"There has, in the past, been research showing growth is boosted in host nations, temporarily, particularly if that nation does well. It's remotely possible that the euro won't even survive Euro 2012 intact, depending on how other nations react to a new Greek government."

Meanwhile, Italy might not need a bail out yet, but their team is mired in allegations about corruption, and their chances have been written off by an Italian press which is even more critical than the English tabloids.

So we'll have to wait and see who the winner is this year, and it'll be fascinating to see what form the championships take by 2016 – and which country is the most tempting investment opportunity by then. 


More on Mindful Money:

How to spot a star fund manager

The economics of the Olympics

The frontier markets fallacy

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