Will Europe Crash the Dow?

The DowJones Industrial Average (INDEX: ^DJI) plunged yesterday, supposedly due in part to the ouster of the Netherlands' prime minister and strong first-round numbers for French presidential candidate Francois Hollande.

That makes a bit of sense. In the near term, markets get freaked out by uncertainty. After all, Hollande has said, "My true adversary ... will not be elected, yet he governs. My enemy is the world of finance."

But markets are also fickle and short-term-oriented. In fact, Europe's misguided economic policies have been in need of a drastic rethink. That's because they were based on the faulty premise that Europe's troubles are due to budget deficits when, in fact, those budget deficits are actually the result of weak economies (with the exception of Greece).

So far, the plan has been to cut spending and raise taxes in order to shore up budget deficits. But austerity in the face of weak economies has only made them weaker, thereby worsening budgets.

Whereas the U.S. is set to grow about 2.5% this year, Europe has stagnated. Spain, which had budget surpluses and modest national debt before its real-estate bubble popped, tried the austerity route. It now has 20% unemployment, and interest rates have increased in response to a weakening economy.

It's a similar, though less dramatic, story in England and many other countries.

It's time for European leaders to deal with their real problem: a lack of growth. The electoral changes could trigger some near-term volatility, but in the long run it will likely be good for the U.S. and European economies to finally see some economic growth in Europe. Bank of America (NYS: BAC) and JPMorgan Chase (NYS: JPM) have had plenty of time to reduce their European exposure. Exporters like Caterpillar (NYS: CAT) and Alcoa (NYS: AA) can look forward to stronger growth and a weaker euro boosting their European profits.

Short-term volatility combined with better long-term prospects means we could see some serious opportunities for investors cropping up. And with earnings season upon us, we can expect to see even more big moves and major opportunities for long-term investors. If you're looking for some stock ideas, check out our free report: "5 Stocks Investors Need to Watch This Earnings Season." Our chief investment officer and top analysts all agree these are the ones you don't want to miss. Simply click here for free access to this special report.

At the time this article was published Ilan Moscovitz doesn't own shares of any company mentioned. You can follow him on Twitter @TMFDada. The Motley Fool owns shares of JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
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