US companies are feeling impact of European crisis

By Michael Liedtke

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 13 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

FILE - In this file photo Jan. 31, 2011, the Pfizer logo is displayed at the drug company's world headquarters in New York. Pfizer Inc., the world's largest maker of prescription drugs, is lowering its prices in Europe 4 to 6 percent, double the usual rate. The company doesn't expect the pricing pressure to let up anytime soon.

Mark Lennihan, File, Associated Press

NEW YORK — The tremors from Europe's financial upheaval have reached U.S. shores, rattling consumers and companies.

The consequences have been limited so far. Yet the United States and Europe are so closely linked that any slowdown across the Atlantic is felt here. U.S. makers of cars, solar panels, drugs, clothes and computer equipment have all reported effects from Europe's turmoil.

Worries that Europe's crisis could worsen and spread are spooking investors and consumers just as the holiday shopping season nears. Some fear U.S. consumers could rein in spending. Europe's sputtering growth is already dragging on some U.S. companies' profits and could further slow the U.S. economy.

The crisis "seems to be coming to a head right at the time the U.S. economy is at its most vulnerable," said Mark Vitner, an economist at Wells Fargo.

It's affecting companies like Marlin Steel Wire Products, a 34-employee business based in Baltimore that's been seeking a $4 million contract from a German manufacturer for an industrial steel wire project.

Marlin's CEO, Drew Greenblatt, says the German firm is in "pause mode" because of Europe's turmoil. The German company had promised the order by early November.

Marlin's overall sales are growing briskly. But sales to Europe have been sinking.

"If they were ordering like they customarily do, we would have hired more guys," Greenblatt said.

The European Union is the No. 1 U.S. trading partner. Nearly $475 billion in goods crossed between the regions in the first nine months of 2011. About 14 percent of revenue for the 500 biggest U.S. companies — roughly $1.3 trillion — comes from Europe.

The U.S. economy is especially vulnerable to the European crisis because it's growing so weakly and facing other risks, such as weak hiring, stagnant pay, high energy costs, a wide trade deficit and potentially steep government spending cuts.

"It won't take much to tip us into another recession," said Sung Won Sohn, an economics professor at California State University, Channel Islands. "If Europe gets into any deeper trouble, it will take us and the rest of the world down, too."

The European Union said last week that the region could slip into a "deep and prolonged recession" next year. The Eurozone is expected to grow just 0.5 percent in 2012. That's far below the 1.8 percent growth predicted in the spring.

Wells Fargo estimates that the U.S. economy will grow 2.1 percent next year, 0.4 percentage point lower because of Europe's slowdown. Goldman Sachs thinks the region's slowdown could shave a full percentage point off U.S. growth.

Even if Europe doesn't fall into a downturn, its turmoil is affecting U.S companies and consumers in several ways:

— Stock-market gyrations unsettle consumers and make them more cautious about spending.

— U.S. companies with big European operations are suffering from lower sales, prices and profits.

— Banks worldwide are cutting lending and hoarding cash to create more cushion for potentially deep losses on their holdings of Greek, Italian and other government debt. U.S. and overseas banks are keeping about $1.57 trillion in reserves at the Federal Reserve — a jump of nearly $580 billion in the past year.

— Uncertainty about how much damage Europe could cause is making corporations reluctant to spend their piles of cash to hire and invest.

Not every U.S. company is hurting in Europe, of course. McDonald's Corp., Kraft Foods Inc., Sara Lee Corp. and Oracle Corp. recently reported strong results there. But General Motors Co.'s third-quarter profit fell 15 percent, due mainly to slower sales and higher costs in Europe.

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