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Eurozone markets are a mixed bag

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The Italian elections earlier this week supposedly threw the entire world’s markets into a panic, driving the S&P 500 down by 27.75 points on Monday alone. Italy seemed poised to elect several anti-austerity candidates, but the bigger problem was the government appeared to become even more fractured than it already was, making political and economic gridlock an almost certainty.

The fallout in the American stock markets reminded all of us that the problems in the Eurozone are a long way from being solved. It’s a bit scary that an election — not a policy decision or an economic crisis erupting, but simply the outcome of an election — could have such wide-ranging effects on the global economy. That points up how precarious the financial situation in the European Union remains.

But what many people have not noticed is that, in spite of the considerable debt issues that still remain, the European Union is doing fairly well as an economic entity, at least so far as its markets are concerned. Here is a look at how various EU markets have done over the past year (all returns are as of Tuesday, February 26); the biggest winner may surprise you.

Spain (IBEX 35 Index): Down 6.4 percent over the past year

The biggest stock on the IBEX 35, the Spanish telecom Telefonica, has had a terrible year, dropping nearly 20 percent in the past 12 months. Since it account for more than 20 percent of the index, that presents a big hurdle to overcome. The second-biggest stock on the index, Banco Santander, has had a better time of it. Although, with a 12-month increase of just 1.23 percent, it pales next to the performance of America’s financial sector.

See also: Spain leads in insurance purchases via mobile devices

Italy (FTSE MIB Index): Down 5.7 percent

Some big names had big years in Italy: Parmalat up nearly 15 percent, Pirelli up 13 percent. The medical diagnostic firm DiaSorin rose a molto bene 27 percent. But the financial sector continues to struggle. Banco Popolare and Banca Popolare dell’Emilia Romagna were both down about 10 percent. Perhaps the biggest pratfall of all, though, was taken by the utility A2A, which lost 44 percent of its value over the past year.

Netherlands (AEX Index): Up 3.2 percent

Plenty of Dutch stocks had big showings this year. The publisher and information provider Reed Elsevier, best known in the United States for its subsidiary LexisNexis, was up by 28 percent. ASML, which makes the machines that make semiconductors, rose by a whopping 92 percent. But maybe the most iconic Dutch stock, Royal Dutch Shell, was off 5 percent on the year.

France (CAC 40 Index): Up 5.2 percent

Lafarge, the world’s largest cement manufacturer, and Safran, an aerospace and defense contractor, both rose a spectacular 44 percent over the past 12 months. Credit Agricole was up 49 percent. But the security company Gemalto did them even better, rising by 63 percent. These winners were dragged down by the likes of gas distributor GDF Suez (down 22 percent) and the construction firm Bougues (down 14 percent).

Belgium (BEL 20 Index): Up 11.1 percent

Belgium is now home to the iconic American brand Budweiser, as part of the Anheuser-Busch InBev conglomerate. That was among the strongest Belgian performers in the past year, rising 44 percent, just ahead of the biopharmaceutical company UCB, up 43 percent. But both of them were outpaced by the banking giant KBC Groep, which was up by 65 percent.

Sweden (Stockholm Index): Up 8.6 percent

If you invested in the Stockholm index over the past year, you were in for a bumpy ride. You had dismal large caps such as Rorvik Timber (down 64 percent in 12 months), the biomedical company Artimplant (down 45 percent), the oil & gas company BlackPearl Resources (down 50 percent), and the road construction company Geveko (down 51 percent). At the same time, you had some massive winners: the investment firm Melker Schorling was up 61 percent, the pharmaceutical company Orexo up 99 percent. And there’s maybe the most amazing stock on the entire continent, the high-tech manufacturer Arcam, which was up 530 percent, benefiting from its status as a pioneer in 3-D printing.

Germany (DAX Index): Up 12.1 percent

Germany is the preeminent economy in the EU, so it’s no surprise that its market has been so strong. The calendar year 2012 ended up as the biggest gainer for the DAX Index since 2003. Multinational pharmaceuticals have been faring particularly well. Merck was up 39 percent in the past 12 months, and Bayer was up 37 percent.

Greece (Athens Stock Exchange General Index): Up 33.2 percent

This one may come as a bit of a shock, but remember, the Greek stock market had nowhere to go but up. By the middle of 2012, it had lost more than 60 percent off its recent peak. That rebound has been fueled by an awful lot of winners, including several stocks that have more than doubled in the past year. The retailer JUMBO, for instance, has posted an increase of 108 percent, and the computer firm Quest is up 135 percent. And then there’s Intralot, which makes online lottery systems and rose an incredible 239 percent in one year.

For more on the Eurozone, see:

Eurozone Index indicates strong start to 2013

Economist: Euro crisis could erupt again this year

Eurozone recession to continue into 2014