NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ The Dow Jones industrial average crept lower Wednesday as Europe edged closer to a recession that would hurt corporate profits in the U.S. The first earnings reports from American companies didn't add much encouragement.
Germany reported that its economy, the largest in Europe, shrank slightly at the end of last year. And the European Union revised its figures for economic growth in the third quarter to 0.1 percent, its slowest pace in more than two years.
"Europe is still the main risk," said Jeffrey Kleintop, chief market strategist at LPL Financial. "Yes, they've been making progress on their budgets, but they clearly have growth problems."The Dow dropped 13.02 points, or 0.1 percent, to close at 12,449.45 in another day of light trading. The other two main U.S. indexes eked out slight gains. The European Commission also said Hungary has taken "no effective action" to contain its budget deficit. Stock markets in Germany and France fell slightly, and the euro dropped half a penny against the dollar, to $1.27. Worries over Europe stoked demand for Treasurys and lowered the cost of borrowing for the federal government. The Treasury sold 10-year notes at the lowest rate on record Wednesday, 1.90 percent. The United States depends on Europe to buy about 20 percent of its exports, and concerns about Europe have led analysts to lower their profit estimates for U.S. companies. Profits at S&P 500 companies are expected to rise 7.2 percent for the last three months of 2011, according to Standard & Poor's Capital IQ. That's much lower than the 17.6 percent growth reported in the third quarter. Judging by the S&P 500 index, investors seem to think earnings could fall much further, Kleintop said. The index is trading at about 13 times the past year's earnings of its companies â¿¿ close to what it was at the end of 1990, when the economy was in recession. Earnings fell 20 percent during that downturn.