The biggest fear was that Greece’s potential departure from the euro currency would set off a financial crisis like the one in 2008. American banks have tried to reduce their holdings of bonds issued by countries in Europe’s troubled southern periphery. But if payments and loans were frozen at European financial institutions, it would quickly spread to American banks and from there to the broader American economy.
“I don’t think anyone is fully prepared for a disorderly exit of Greece from the single currency,” said Edward Marrinan, the head of macro credit strategy at RBS.
Barring such a crash, an extended recession in Europe was still likely to hurt the American companies that rely most heavily on Europe for revenue, though it was not clear how many would suffer.
Almost three years into this European crisis, there is a surprising amount of uncertainty about exactly how much American companies rely on European sales. Only about half of the companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index of major American companies break out the portion of their revenue that comes from Europe.
“We do not have a clear picture at all,” said Howard Silverblatt, the senior index analyst at Standard & Poor’s. “There is enormous uncertainty.”
Tobias Levkovich, chief equity strategist at Citigroup, has estimated that around 11 percent of all revenue earned by companies in the S.& P. 500 indexofficially comes from Europe. But he said that the actual figure was closer to 15 percent because of unclear reporting and products that first go through other regions.
Food and beverage companies, as well as pharmaceutical companies, derive about 22 percent of their revenue from Europe, according to Mr. Levkovich’s analysis. These companies are less likely to be hard hit in case of a deepening recession.
“At the end of the day, people in Europe will still buy Pampers even if they cost a drop more,” said Russ Koesterich, the chief investment strategist for the iShares division of BlackRock.
The same cannot be said for companies that sell big-ticket products. American automakers could be in particular trouble given that they derive about 27 percent of their sales from Europe, according to Mr. Levkovich. Both Ford and General Motors reported declining sales in Europe in the first quarter, and the problems are being exacerbated by unused factories on the Continent, according to Mike Wall, an analyst at IHS.
Industrial companies, which derive 16 percent of sales from Europe, have been slower to report problems, though not in all cases. David Farr, chief executive of the Missouri-based industrial conglomerate Emerson Electric , said in a call with analysts in May that his company’s business on the Continent “has continued to weaken” and that there was “very little recovery in sight.”
Technology companies have been among the most outspoken about their vulnerability to Europe.
A few weeks after Cisco’s announcement, Dell’s chief financial officer said the environment in Europe and parts of Asia was “tougher than we had planned.” And a day later, Hewlett-Packard’s chief executive, Meg Whitman, said that her company would face “headwinds” from Europe at least through the end of the year.
Some companies facing this situation have taken measures to protect themselves, like withdrawing money from European accounts that would be vulnerable.
But, Mr. Sacconaghi said, “There is not a lot you can do when demand in a whole geography weakens.”