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U.S. banks say they have manageable euro debt

Heidi Moore Sep 20, 2011

U.S. banks say they have manageable euro debt

Heidi Moore Sep 20, 2011

Bob Moon: So, “the global economy has entered a dangerous new phase.” Not my words, mind you. That’s a quote today from the chief economist of the International Monetary Fund. The I.M.F. just lowered its estimates for growth in the U.S. and Europe, which means it will be harder for European countries to rein in their debt. Greek officials were huddling again today on what to do to keep from defaulting.

But given this latest outlook, what’s the risk to the U.S.? American banks have just gotten on their feet from our own crisis back in 2008. Are they going to get knocked down again? Our New York bureau chief Heidi Moore reports.

Heidi Moore: Among American banks that are big players in foreign markets, Citigroup has the most at stake: $6 of every $10 it makes comes from overseas. So you’d think Citigroup would be at risk from the European debt crisis. Well, not so much.

Europe’s most troubled countries are Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain. Citigroup has about $14 billion in loans to the governments and companies there.

Got that? $14 billion. Now here’s some context: Citigroup’s total assets are about $2 trillion.

Fred Cannon: We know that the direct exposure to European countries is fairly limited from the large U.S. banks, and it doesn’t exist at the small U.S. financial institutions.

That’s Fred Cannon, head of research for Keefe Bruyette & Woods.

Cannon: From a big-picture standpoint, it looks like the U.S. banking system and the economy should be somewhat insulated.

But we could be part of the collateral damage if Europe’s debt crisis makes executives and bankers worry about doing business there.

Larry Kantor is the global head of research for Barclays Capital. He says this crisis isn’t about banks yet — it’s about governments.

Larry Kantor: Investors are doubting the ability of some of these countries to make good on their debt. That’s a bad thing. But it’s really a sovereign debt crisis that could create a bank crisis.

Kantor said it’s hard to predict the full damage until Europe figures out how to handle its problems.

In New York, I’m Heidi Moore for Marketplace.

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