(By Street Authority) Sitting in the banking centers of London, Paris and Zurich, the top European money managers have all been singing the same tune lately: "Focus on America." These investment pros were greatly concerned about the U.S. economy a few years ago, but increasingly think that our country represents the best-multi-year growth opportunities for their portfolios.
They pair that tune with another one: "Get out of Europe."
That's good advice. So far, major European economies have managed to sidestep the huge boulders being hurled from places like Greece, Italy and Spain. Not anymore. Even as recent interventionist measures removed the risk of a major meltdown (for now), the largest European economies are only now starting to buckle, and there's a real possibility that they'll endure another tough recession.
You can already see cracks emerging in places like the United Kingdom, where government spending equates to roughly half of gross domestic product (compared to about 33% in the United States). Efforts to shrink the government, however necessary they may be, are a brake on economic growth. The British economy had been expected to grow 0.2% in the first quarter, but instead shrank -0.1%.
Meanwhile, the French and German economies had been expected to eke out very small gains this year, perhaps in the 0.5% to 1.0% range. Yet recent reports indicate that those forecasts -- just four months old, are already too aggressive. For example, French polling firm Insee found that consumer spending plunged in March. An early read on second-quarter data imply that the French economy has returned to recession mode for the first time since 2009. Over in Germany, just 27.6% of consumers expect to maintain their level of discretionary spending, according to an April survey, down from 38.6% in March. Germany may avoid recession this year, but just barely.
The incipient weakness is due to the fact key trading partners such as Italy, the Netherlands and Spain are all expected to experience a moderate to severe economic contraction this year. In effect, a negative feedback loop between Northern Europe and Southern Europe has reappeared for the first time since 2009.
In response to the darkening economic picture, talks are set to commence next month that look for ways to throttle back many of the painful austerity measures in place, in order to keep the economic slump from deepening.