Will U.S. Default Risk Drive Money to Foreign Markets?

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Investors have become increasingly anxious about how badly the U.S. equity and fixed income markets will be battered as the American government marches toward a potential default. Of course, investors may sell off U.S. sovereign paper. They also might exit equities on fear that the stock market will collapse as part of political gridlock. Foreign stocks, particularly those viewed as safe havens, could become immensely attractive over the next several weeks.

Eventually, damage done to the U.S. economy will sweep the world, but there will be a daily rise in the problems created by the effects on global exports to America. Granted, large financial firms that hold U.S. debt could suffer immediately, but the biggest global nonfinancial companies could dodge the revenue and earnings impact for several months.

Since the Chinese economy continues to grow at better than 7%, and many of its biggest companies still have a substantial amount of government ownership, they should hold up best. Among those that are the safest investments are oil giants PetroChina Co. Ltd. (NYSE: PTR) and CNOOC Ltd. (NYSE: CEO). Since China’s telecom companies make almost all of their money inside of the People’s Republic, China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL), China Telecom Corp. Ltd. (NYSE: CHA) and China Unicom Ltd. (NYSE: CHU) should be nearly immune. So should several tech and Internet companies, like Baidu Inc. (NASDAQ: BIDU).

In China, public companies that export to the United States could do badly. This includes particularly Sony Corp. (NYSE: SNE) and Toyota Motor Corp. (NYSE: TM). On the other hand, Tokyo-based Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NYSE: NTT) could do well.

Finally, turning to Europe, many banks and large companies that export to the United States will be risky. However, British American Tobacco PLC (NYSE: BTI) should continue to thrive. So should GlaxoSmithKline PLC (NYSE: GSK), as well as Vodafone Group PLC (NASDAQ: VOD) as its pulls out of the U.S. telecom market. In Europe itself, Anheuser-Busch Inbev S.A./N.V. (NYSE BUD) will not suffer immediately. Neither likely will Novo Nordisk A/S (NYSE: NVO).

As investors move out of U.S. equities, at least there are plenty of places to go.

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