Europe Is a Mess. China Is Slowing. What's It Mean for Earnings?

There's an ironic trend occurring among big multinational corporations.

For most of the last decade, investors scooped up stocks that had big international exposure with the idea that they would provide a hedge against a weakening dollar. Companies that do most of their business overseas, like Coca-Cola (NYSE: KO  ) (73% overseas), Philip Morris International (NYSE: PM  ) (all overseas), and Intel (NASDAQ: INTC  ) (85% overseas), looked compelling as a hedge against the U.S. economy's faults.

But now the dollar is strengthening.

And Europe is a mess.

And China's economy is slowing.

What's it mean for the economy, and for sectors with big international exposure?

Last week I asked Liz Ann Sonders, chief investment strategist at Charles Schwab. Here's what she had to say (transcript follows).

Sonders: Our trade relationships with Europe have moved down in terms of impact on GDP, percentage of import/export relationship is a relatively low number. The relationship between Europe and China in terms of the trade relationship is much tighter and I think that's why you're seeing a little bit more of a connection there than you're seeing here.

I think at the sector level it matters a little bit more in terms of those companies that have greater exposure to Europe. Tech is probably, last I looked at the numbers, had the highest exposure to Europe among the 10 broad equity sectors. At the same time, we're heading into earnings season right now and we've had a decent amount of strength in the dollar, so that could have an impact on multinational earnings as well, leaving aside the economic woes of Europe.

In the same light, our economy is doing much better than much of the rest of the world, so there's an offset. I just think that short term we're probably in an environment where smaller, more domestically oriented companies will probably fare better through this earnings season because of the weakness we're seeing in global markets, not least being Europe, but also the recent strength in the dollar.

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