The economic future of Europe looks gloomy: default in Greece appears inevitable and a recession is in the cards. While Greece is at the epicenter of the troubles right now, the economic effects of the E.U. crisis could be profound and global. Here are three important numbers that help illustrate what the stakes are not only for the European economy but the U.S. and the rest of the world.
That's the share of U.S. exports that went to the E.U. during the first 11 months of 2011, according to figures from the Census Bureau. An economic crisis in Europe directly threatens U.S. firms, especially manufacturers, which makes for diminished profits and jobs stateside. If the Eurozone faces a "deep" and "prolonged" recession, a possibility brought up by the European Commission in November, the U.S. economy would take a hit as demand for goods falls.
The amount, in euros (roughly $18.5 billion), that Greece will owe—and be unable to pay—bondholders on March 20. Many say the country could default that day, as Greece simply doesn't have the funds to repay its debtholders. Therefore, the Hellenic Republic has to negotiate a writedown on that debt with its private creditors.
After a weekend of haggling, that deal has yet to be struck. Without a deal, Greece would enter what some are calling a "hard default"— a scenario in which Greece simply runs out of money and cannot pay off its creditors.
A hard default could trigger a severe recession in Europe and cripple U.S. credit markets. "If we're really talking about a Greek default, [the detrimental effects] will be to our credit channel because we have a lot of financial contagion here, and that will almost certainly sink us back into a recession," says Paul Edelstein, director of financial economics at IHS Global Insight. "So banks are going to tighten, confidence is going to plummet, markets are going to sell off sharply, and we're almost back where we started three years ago."
At a December House Oversight Subcommittee on TARP, Financial Services and Bailouts of Public and Private Programs hearing, Brookings Institution fellow Douglas Elliott estimated that U.S. banks and subsidiaries have $4.7 trillion in exposure to Euro zone and U.K. governments, banks and corporations.
That's the Eurozone GDP growth forecast for 2012, as estimated last week by the World Bank. While growth forecasts vary—the European Commission estimated in November that 2012 growth will be 0.6 percent—the situation still looks dire. In addition to the blow an EU recession would deal to U.S. exports, it could create problems for a host of other companies: U.S. firms have over $1 trillion of direct investment in the EU, as Elliott testified in his December testimony, and a European recession would also make for diminished economic confidence, both in Europe and across the globe . Less confidence means less spending and investing, which spells trouble for Europe, the U.S. and the global economy.