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By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, July 2 As an increasing number of American companies warn their earnings will fall short of expectations, many are pointing the finger at Europe as the culprit.
As the second-quarter corporate results season gets underway in the next few weeks, the euro zone debt crisis, weak European demand, the euro currency's decline and the impact of it all on the global economic environment, will be front and center.
A Thomson Reuters study of 85 Standard & Poor's 500 companies that have warned investors their earnings would be worse than expected in the quarter shows at least 20 cited Europe specifically, 15 noted currency movements and 12 talked more vaguely about uncertainty due to global economic conditions. Most of the others were not specific or had more unique or isolated problems.
Even the handful of big consumer products companies which are saying that China's slowing economy is starting to hurt their sales can also see the euro zone's hand in it all. Many Chinese factories are being hit by reduced export demand - from Europe.
So while the news may have brightened somewhat at the end of last week because euro zone leaders agreed on a series of crisis-fighting measures, it won't take Europe - where many economies are either in or close to a recession - out of the corporate news headlines in the next few weeks at least.
"Europe is clearly a headwind impacting demand for goods and services," said Kathy Karlic, group vice president at Wilmington Trust Investment Advisors in Buffalo, New York. Wilmington Trust manages $70 billion in assets.
Some 14 percent of all S&P 500 company sales come from Europe alone, according to S&P data.
The overall effect is significant. The number of companies that have said second-quarter results will be worse than forecast outnumbers those who say the picture has brightened by 3.62 to 1 - the most negative it has been in almost 11 years, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Companies that have cited Europe run the gamut, from personal computer maker Hewlett-Packard (HPQ.N) to consumer staples company Procter & Gamble (PG.N) and coffee chain Starbucks (SBUX.O).
Last Thursday, Ford Motor Co (F.N) said its losses from outside North America could be triple the $190 million posted in the first quarter, largely due to the headwind from Europe.
Overall, S&P 500 second-quarter earnings growth is seen at 5.8 percent from a year ago, the data shows. But once you exclude the stunning growth expected from Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and unusual comparisons with a bad year-earlier quarter for Bank of America (BAC.N), earnings are expected to decline 0.4 percent. Revenue is seen up just 1.7 percent for the quarter, the data showed.
Investors typically look to earnings reports to give stocks a lift, but if guidance is any indicator, companies are feeling a lot more pessimistic than optimistic.
The euro's weakness against the dollar has an immediate translation impact on the dollar earnings of U.S. companies with big European operations. It also tends to make U.S.-produced goods less competitive overseas. In the second quarter, the euro EUR= has fallen 5.2 percent against the dollar.
"We have a strengthening dollar, which is not going to be good for multinationals that have foreign operations," said Jeff Schwarte, U.S. equities portfolio manager for Principal Global Investors in Des Moines, Iowa. The firm manages $258 billion in assets.
Mike Kovar, chief financial officer at consumer accessories company Fossil (FOSL.O), warned that the dollar's strength was expected to reduce the company's second-quarter and full-year earnings.
Negative-to-positive guidance is the worst in the consumer discretionary sector at 21-to-1.
That is despite an 18-percent decline in oil prices CLc1 in the second quarter, which is expected to have reduced energy and material costs for corporations and consumers alike.
In its last quarterly report, Starbucks said it suffered its first decline in same-store sales in Europe since 2009, with particular weakness in Ireland and Germany. "The situation is very, very tough," Chief Executive Howard Schultz said of Europe's economy.
Another consumer discretionary company, Priceline.com (PCLN.O) pointed to Europe and the decline in the euro in its quarterly forecast, which warned of slower second-quarter bookings growth.
In the technology sector, Hewlett Packard, NetApp (NTAP.O) and Applied Materials (AMAT.O) were among companies that cited Europe in their outlooks.
"Europe is one tough place to do business right now, and my personal prediction is that this is going to get a little bit softer before it gets stronger," Hewlett Packard CEO and President Meg Whitman said on the company's May 23 earnings conference call.
And it is not as if companies are getting a lot of offsetting help from the rest of the world. U.S. economic growth has failed to pick up momentum this year with U.S. gross domestic product up at only a 1.9 percent annual rate in the first quarter, data showed on Thursday. [ID:nL2E8HS2WT]
U.S. corporations' worries about China, though less severe than fears about Europe, add to the dampened outlook for overseas business. Persistent slowing demand, not just in Europe and the United States but also in China, was behind a June 20 reduced forecast from Procter & Gamble.
Also, Nike Inc (NKE.N), which on Thursday reported earnings below expectations for the quarter ended May 31, said advance orders growth in greater China had dropped sharply from a year ago. [ID:nL2E8HSFMY]
(Reporting By Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Martin Howell, Desking by G Crosse)
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