How European Instability Could Affect the U.S.

There is a modest--very modest--silver lining

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Is the Greece-driven crisis in Europe just a topic for economists and Europhiles, or should ordinary Americans be worried? Business commentators have given plenty of reasons for Americans to fret. They argue that European instability could have a big impact on the U.S. economy, with drawbacks including a tougher climate for exports, a weakened recovery, and the possibility of contagion. Some people, however, have noted some positive effects of lowered borrowing rates and a higher dollar.

  • 'Could Keep US Borrowing Costs Down,' notes 24/7 Wall St.'s Douglas McIntyre. Though many had worried "America would have to pay higher and higher rates to bring in new money," which it desperately needs, in fact costs are currently going down. As investors lose faith in Europe, "for the time being ... the world views American Treasuries as a safe place to put capital, and that could keep US borrowing costs down  just when the country is involved in its most aggressive fund-raising ever." Though the U.S. could be hurt by the European instability in other ways, this much, at least, is a plus.
  • Not 'Yet Flashing Red'  Bob Davis and Mark Gongloff provide some analysis at The Wall Street Journal. Most ways for the Greek crisis to jump to the U.S. "would require Greece's problems to jump first to larger European countries." Once that happens, though, there are plenty of contagion possibilities: "U.S. banks hold more than $1 trillion of European debt," while the trade ties are strong as well. "Even before the Greek crisis, the IMF estimated that the euro zone, whose economy contracted by 4.1% in 2009 would grow at just 1% this year. Anything short of that could curb U.S. exports and weaken what is projected to be an already humdrum recovery." They acknowledge the potential benefits to European stability as "offsetting that drag on the U.S. economy."
  • Greece Is a Warning Sign  Interviewed by Glenn Beck, Harvard economic historian Niall Ferguson says the takeaway here is that "PIGS are us" (PIGS stands for Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain). "In other words, we very quickly could find ourselves in a similar situation to Greece." We shouldn't get lured into a false sense of well-being by a temporary dollar rally.
  • Even Dollar Rallying Mixed Blessing  "As the euro sinks, the long-battered dollar may rally," admits Steve Rosenbush at Portfolio. But while that's good for some things, it also "makes life tougher for U.S. exporters by raising the relative price of their goods." He decides that the financial crisis in Europe is, "on balance ... worse for the Europeans than it is for Americans, so the United States is a net gainer, assuming that it can keep its own debt problems under the boiling point."
  • U.S. Taxpayers Are Paying for Greece  Business Insider's Henry Blodget points out that, since some of the Greek bailout money is coming from the IMF, which is funded by many countries, "US taxpayers are providing ~$8 billion of the $145 billion going to kick the Greek can down the road."
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