With Greece's public finance crisis raising pressing questions about the long-term viability of the eurozone in its present form, investors both individual and institutional are asking themselves if Europe is still a safe place to invest.

However, "Europe" covers wildly divergent economic realities (that's part of the problem), so investors who are looking for a blanket answer are doing themselves a disservice.

A brainteaser for global investors
Which of the following companies is more exposed to macroeconomic risks: Swedish mobile handset manufacturer LM Ericsson (Nasdaq: ERIC) or its U.S. competitor Motorola (NYSE: MOT)?

Surely the answer is Ericsson: A top European company, it must be heavily exposed to this brewing European crisis. But take a look at the following table:

 

LM Ericsson

Motorola

Largest Geographical Market (% of 2009 total revenues)

Asia-Pacific (32%)

U.S. (54%)

Home Country

Sweden

U.S.

Official Currency

Swedish Krona

U.S. Dollar

2010 Government Deficit as a % of GDP (est.)

3%

10.7%

2010 Gross Government Debt as a % of GDP (est.)

55.2%

92.4%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's and the OECD Economic Outlook No. 86, November 2009.

Do you want to change your answer? Sweden's national currency is the krona, not the euro; furthermore, Sweden's public finances are in much better shape than ours. Finally, the eurozone accounted for less than a fifth of Ericsson's revenues in 2009.

No tricks, just four more examples
It may be true that Sweden is unrepresentative of the European market. But let's take a look at some of the same country data as it relates to companies that are headquartered in the eurozone:

 

Siemens AG (NYSE: SI), Deutsche Telekom (NYSE: DT), SAP (NYSE: SAP)

Nokia (NYSE: NOK)

Novo Nordisk (NYSE: NVO)

Sector

Technology

Technology

Health Care

Home Country

Germany

Finland

Denmark

2010 Home Country Deficit as a % of GDP (est.)

5.3%

4.8%

5.4%

2010 Home Country Gross Debt as a % of GDP (est.)

82%

52%

49%

Source: Capital IQ, a division of Standard & Poor's and the OECD Economic Outlook No. 86, November 2009.

By these two measures, Germany, Sweden, and Denmark are all on a sounder fiscal footing than the U.S.; without further analysis, it would be hard to assert with any confidence that the three companies in the above table carry greater macroeconomic risk than any large-cap U.S. company.

Admittedly, the U.S. enjoys unparalleled flexibility in terms of its ability to fund its deficits, but I think these examples show that broad statements about "European stocks" or "the eurozone" aren't that useful for investors.

Macro- doesn't translate uniformly to micro-
Although the headline risk is macroeconomic -- the crisis relates to deteriorating public finances and to trade and consumption imbalances in the eurozone -- it won't have a uniform impact on different European countries, much less on different companies within those countries.

Despite this, it appears that many institutional investors aren't hanging around to work out the distinctions. In particular, asset allocators -- whose decision-making process is largely driven by macro considerations -- have already begun to lower their exposure to Europe.

According to a survey performed by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, between March 5 and March 11, 21% of asset allocators are underweight European equities, a steep increase from January, when 2% were overweight.

Sweeping shifts can create opportunity
For stockpickers, large money flows driven by sweeping shifts in sentiment can be a source of opportunity.

Not all European stocks have the same exposure to the current crisis; if institutional investors are reducing their exposure to Europe across the board, the resulting gap in demand for shares could create produce attractive equity valuations for high-quality companies.

However, such opportunities aren't free -- only investors who are knowledgeable and prepared will be able to identify them in time.

Get on board for the Fool's trip to Greece!
The team at Motley Fool Global Gains is committed to finding those opportunities on behalf of its members. In order to do that, they're making an investment in time and effort: This week, Global Gains co-advisor Tim Hanson and his colleague Nate Weisshaar are in Greece on a mission to find actionable insights for investors. You can't meet with leaders in the Greek business and financial communities to discuss the crisis, but they'll do it for you.

If you'd like to tag along by getting their timely trip reports, drop your email into the box below.

Fool contributor Alex Dumortier has no beneficial interest in any of the stocks mentioned in this article. Nokia is a Motley Fool Inside Value choice. Novo Nordisk is a former Motley Fool Global Gains selection. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.