As we type this, the second half is underway in the FIFA World Cup semi-final between Belgium and France. The game is an entertaining 1-0 (France ahead) thriller filled with history: the two countries share an official language, a border, and a long history featuring episodes like twin summer revolutions in 1830 or mutual invasion by Germany in both World Wars. Today, however, the two are opposed on the pitch. What about in financial markets? It turns out the result is actually instructive about the difference between short- and long-term relative performance.
We have USD total returns for each country’s MSCI index dating back to the start of 1999. Since then, Belgium has outperformed France in 11 of 20 years, including a streak of seven straight wins from 2009 to 2015. As shown in the last chart below, though, France has been the winner the last three years including 2018 YTD. So does that mean Belgium has been a better bet for investors? No. Since our data starts, France has outperformed Belgium dramatically, returning 138% to investors versus 58% for Belgium. In other words, while Belgium has won more “matches” over the last couple of decades, France has a truly massive leg up when it comes to the “goal” differential between the two countries.