Voters back remaining in the European Union by a margin of 13 points, according to an ORB telephone survey published on Tuesday for the Daily Telegraph. With polls indicating the ‘remain’ lead widening, now may be the best time to invest in stocks that are likely to benefit the most from Britain remaining in the EU.
Banks will likely be some of the biggest winners from a “remain” outcome. British banks currently enjoy “passporting” rights to conduct their business in all EU countries, which means they don’t need to set up separate local subsidiaries in each member state they operate in. This saves them significant costs and facilitates cross-border business, which could be put at risk with Brexit.
Barclays (LSE: BARC) is one of the biggest potential beneficiaries of a “remain” vote, because it earns a larger proportion of its income from commercial customers in the UK than many of its rivals. Growth in commercial lending and investment banking revenues are highly sensitive to economic growth, which explains why Barclays is potentially most vulnerable to Brexit.
The bank’s analysts think a vote for Brexit could see the Bank of England cut rates to as low as zero. If rates are indeed cut, Barclays’ revenues are likely to fall, as interest income earned on loans and other investments shrink. Net interest margins could shrink, too, as the average cost of funding cannot fall much lower, given that the bank pays virtually no interest to most depositors. Over time, revenues will likely recover, but the short term impact will likely be very severe for the bank.
Commercial property company British Land (LSE: BLND) is a good bet on a “remain” outcome since the UK commercial property sector relies heavily on foreign investment. Foreign buyers have largely stayed on the sidelines in recent months because of Brexit fears, but normal investment flows will likely return once a “remain” vote is clear.
British Land’s discount to its net asset value (NAV) has already shrunk in recent weeks, as polls indicate that a “remain” outcome for the EU referendum is increasingly likely. Its discount to NAV peaked at a high of 28% in February this year, but has since narrowed to just over 15%.
A “remain” outcome would most likely lead to an immediate boost in investor confidence for the property sector, which should result in a further reduction in British Land’s discount to NAV. It’s been less than a year since the REIT traded at a premium to NAV, and I wouldn’t be surprised if British Land would again be valued at a premium following a “remain” outcome.
Fashion retailer Next (LSE: NXT) is another stock that could benefit from a “remain” victory. Shares in the retailer are down 25% since the start of the year, with City analysts citing Brexit fears as the main causes behind its share price weakness.
Next purchases almost all of its products from abroad and, as an importer, it is more profitable when the pound is strong. The risk that the UK might leave the EU has already prompted a sell-off in sterling, with the pound having lost up to 10 percent of its value on a trade-weighted basis in the past six months alone. A vote to remain in the EU would most certainly be welcomed by most retailers, not only as it would benefit sterling, but also because it would be positive for domestic economic growth and consumer spending.
Moreover, valuations are attractive, with shares in Next trading at 12.3 times its expected 2016 earnings. This compares favourably to its 3-year historical forward P/E of 15.0.
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Jack Tang has a position in Barclays plc. The Motley Fool UK has recommended Barclays. We Fools don't all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors.