What is vague is often ignored, and what is possible is sometimes given no weighting by investors, instead overlooked for what is most tangible and certain today. In this regard, so has the threat of European impact to the U.S. economy proven impotent to U.S. stock direction through late 2011 and so far in 2012. However, there exists tangible impact to the U.S. economy that is directly attributable to the nascent trouble in Europe. I suggest investors take note as well, since the impacts should only grow more obvious with time, with their effects eventually burdening U.S. GDP, and finally given credit in the valuation of American stocks.
The evidence I point to, which shows the impact of European weakness on the U.S. economy, has come in two forms of late. We've seen it in the latest trade data and also in the actions of European companies operating in the U.S. Those actions have included the consolidation of American operations or other reorganization, and the laying off of American workers. That contribution to an already laboring labor market should be felt and understood for its seriousness.
The direct impact, though, is more clearly seen in the latest international trade data, reported last week for the month of November. The U.S. international trade deficit widened by 10.4%, to $47.8 billion, which was far more than economists surveyed by Bloomberg foresaw (consensus -$45 billion). While November imports were $2.9 billion higher, reflective of high season demand perhaps, exports were lower by $1.5 billion. That drop in exports was mostly attributable to goods, as the change in service exports was virtually unchanged. The decrease also countered the year-over-year trend, which showed exports up 10.3% from November of 2010. Certainly, Europe has endured a good deal of pain over the course of those twelve months, and it may be starting to cost U.S. exporters today.
According to the Department of Commerce, the decrease in exports was mostly seen in lower industrial supplies and materials demand ($1.6 billion); and also in capital goods ($0.2 billion) and other areas. That drop in industrial goods demand was counter to the year-over-year trend as well. Somewhat surprisingly, and perhaps contradicting this report, an increase of $0.8 billion occurred in consumer goods exports. Though, this could have been due to seasonal driver.
The most telling of the data came when comparing the month's trends between Europe and China. While the trade deficit with China narrowed to $26.9 billion, from $28.1 billion in October, the deficit with the European Union widened to $9.7 billion, from $8.0 billion in October. It was the most marked increase in deficit among America's trading partners.
While what we've just discussed is direct and clear, what is developing anecdotally is concerning due to its concealed nature. It thus has the ability of sneaking up on economists and strategists who may not be paying the closest of attention to peripheral information. Therefore, it could bite analysts, brokers and finally retail investors in the behind. Take note that my followers will not be found within that grouping.
While authoring my report on the Ugly Truth About the Economy, I took note of the number of announced corporate layoffs coming from European based firms over a very short recent time span. It was difficult not to notice given my bead on the newswire. Since the turn of the year, we've seen American worker layoffs by European based firms: Novartis (NVS), Vestas Wind Systems (VWSYF.PK), RBS (RBS), Delhaize (DEG) and others. When pressure mounts on a European company, it must look more closely at the ROIC of its projects. While you would expect European based projects to be hit most severely, early stage efforts in the States that are not going to return on investment soon, must also be curtailed in many cases. That means American jobs are lost, despite the government's declaration of domestic economic gains. It contributes to unemployment, and it depletes tax revenues, curtails consumer spending and costs us in unemployment benefit payouts. It will affect our GDP.
Meanwhile, money center banks with global operations are pointing to Europe as the source of their earnings disappointments, as rumors of related layoffs swirl. The latest to blame the European crisis for its direct and indirect impacts on its operations was Citigroup (C) Tuesday. Analysts expect a fourth quarter loss from Morgan Stanley (MS) in its upcoming report this week, on market and regulatory pressures. Goldman Sachs (GS) will also report later this week. Citi's Chief Executive, Vikram Pandit, shed light Tuesday saying, "Clearly, the macro environment has impacted the capital markets and we will continue to right-size our businesses to match the environment." Citi is cutting 5,000 jobs away, which is more than the 4,500 it said it would in December; that might reflect a deteriorating trend more so than discovered inefficiencies. Despite the already significant job cuts across major international banks with U.S. operations, we very well could see more from the likes of those already mentioned, Credit Suisse, UBS (UBS) and the rest.
In conclusion, the impacts of European weakness on the U.S. economy are currently visible and already measurable. Yet, the U.S. stock market has reflected enthusiasm tied to a synthetically driven consumer sector and a misleading employment situation, which we discussed here previously. Considering that the struggling region accounts for 20% of American exports, and given its trajectory, it is capable of diverting American recovery and deserves more attention in the weightings of valuation and scenario analysis. The signs of this effect had until now been somewhat vague to see, but they are growing clearer with time, and I expect they will eventually be impossible for the stock market to ignore.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.