Argentina is still seen as a small, containable crisis that will have minimal impact on the U.S. stock market. But for

J.P. Morgan Chase

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,

General Motors

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and a host of other companies that do business in the region, it has been anything but a minor irritation.

Banks and multinational companies have seen their fourth-quarter earnings reduced, in some cases considerably, by Argentina's default and devaluation. The country has been mired in a recession for the past four years, but the crisis has escalated in recent weeks with citizens rioting in the streets and major leaders resigning from office.

Multinational firms in the U.S. are being hurt by difficult currency translations, while financial services firms are seeing losses from derivatives transactions as well as a rise in credit costs due to loan exposure.

The latest U.S. corporation to report a steep hit from the crisis is

Citigroup

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, which recorded pretax costs from Argentina of nearly half a billion dollars in its fourth-quarter earnings statement Thursday morning. The financial services giant, which still managed to top analysts' earnings estimates by a penny in the quarter, said it had a $235 million pretax loss from Argentina-related foreign exchange revaluations, and $235 million in credit losses and securities write-downs.

Big Hits

J.P. Morgan Chase was the first bank to quantify the extent of the damage Wednesday. The company reported a 67% drop in year-over-year earnings per share, missing analysts' estimates by a whopping 23 cents.

"The crisis at

Enron

and in Argentina increased credit costs and reduced trading and other revenues by a total of $807 million," the firm said, adding that it has increased loan-loss reserves by $510 million.

Dion Darham, an analyst at Arnhold & Bleichroeder, said the firm's net exposure to Argentina is $483 million, which he believes is "not significant."

"It's good that they're charging off bad loans immediately," he added. "In the past they used to write it off over a period of time."

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Darham also noted that the company has made provisions for a 50% devaluation in Argentina's currency. So far, the Argentine peso has been devalued by about 30%.

Still, J.P. Morgan was down 3% to $36.55 Wednesday, and analysts say there may be more bad news ahead for other companies in the group.

More to Come

FleetBoston

delayed the release of its earnings amid uncertainty about how much Argentina's financial crisis would hurt its bottom line. Citigroup was down 1.8% to $48.81, and FleetBoston fell 0.53% to $33.92 Wednesday.

Turmoil in South America also has taken a toll on shares of GM. The world's largest automaker said earnings before special items fell 58% in the fourth quarter to 60 cents a share as Argentina's currency devaluation put a 14-cent, or $97 million, dent in the company's results. The company also has been hurt by a decline in vehicle sales in the region.

Ford Motor

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, which is expected to release earnings Thursday, also manufactures and sells vehicles in Argentina and is expected to take a hit to earnings as well.

GM fell 0.08% to $49.92, while Ford shed 0.53% to $14.96 on Wednesday.

Still, some companies that derive a significant portion of their revenue from Argentina were in the black on Wednesday.

Procter & Gamble

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rose 0.2% to $79.34, and

Avon Products

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added 1.58% to $46.42.

Goldman Sachs said that it expects double-digit earnings growth from Avon in 2002, despite an expected 5-cent hit to earnings from the devaluation of the peso. Still, the firm added that a more severe devaluation "could pose some risk to estimates."

While Argentina's economic problems have been well telegraphed in the financial markets, some analysts are concerned about an escalation of the crisis.

"I really don't know how well prepared (companies) would be because so much depends on internal currency hedging," noted Hugh Johnson, chief investment officer at First Albany. "Regardless of the devaluation, companies are going to get hurt for sure whether it's from declining auto sales in Argentina or from the de facto default on loans."