Analysts and investors say that based on revenues, European companies are more vulnerable to a dispute than their competitors in the United States.
U.S. President Donald Trump is due to decide by Saturday whether to impose duties on car imports, potentially posing another significant threat to global growth and denting Europe's prized auto sector.
Washington's renewed tensions with Beijing may distract Trump and delay a decision beyond the May 18 deadline, or he may crank up his protectionist push with a global trade war on two fronts.
Last month, he also threatened to impose tariffs on hundreds of European goods, from cheese to ski suits, worth $11 billion.
The impact on Europe's top firms could be profound -- with slowing economic growth and some countries like Italy struggling with bulging budget deficits, the region may not be as resilient to a prolonged dispute as China has so far proven.
In the past six months, the Chinese government has launched stimulus measures from tax cuts to boosting lending to shore up the world's No. 2 economy as the trade spat rumbles on.
"I'm much more concerned about trade for Europe than I am for China," said Christophe Donay, head of asset allocation at Pictet Wealth Management.
According to Europe's top asset manager Amundi Asset Management, U.S sales average about 20% of MSCI Europe companies' aggregate turnover, while European sales average about 14% of turnover for companies in MSCI's U.S. share index,
For an interactive version of the below graphic, click herehttps://tmsnrt.rs/2VGtZSu.
AUTOS AND TECH
Typically, Europe's carmakers are considered particularly vulnerable to Trump's protectionism.
A 25% tariff could result in a 0.2-0.3 percentage point loss of export revenue and GDP for Germany, according to an analysis by Moody's. The United States accounts for 13% of Germany's car exports, the ratings agency has said.
Measured by revenue, there's a lot at stake for companies like Fiat Chrysler with $45.3 billion in U.S. revenues. But many, like Fiat, have their own U.S. production plants, sheltering them slightly from any outright tariffs.
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Caroline Simmons, deputy head of the UK investment office of UBS Global Wealth Management, said she would expect the technology, energy and industrial sectors to be worst-hit by any further antagonism.
Average European company exposure to the United States in those sectors ranges from 10 to 20% in terms of sales, compared with 33% for healthcare.
UBS is underweight consumer discretionary in the euro zone, which includes autos, partly because of the trade tariffs.
"The market is nervous about it and last year (the U.S.-China spat) escalated more than people expected and the effect on the market was bigger than people had anticipated," she said.
Of pan-European STOXX 600 index companies, those in healthcare have the highest revenue exposure on average.
An analysis by Refinitiv based on companies' estimates of 2019 revenue shows they draw some 133.3 billion euros in revenue from the world's No. 1 economy and top drug market.
For an interactive version of the below chart, click herehttps://tmsnrt.rs/2WwCixg.
While healthcare has not been implicated in the tit-for-tat between Washington and Brussels so far, some investors worry about the potential fall-out from souring relations between the two economic powerhouses.
"As these sectors are in normal times regarded as defensive, they may doubly disappoint if the U.S. and Europe also engage in a tariff war," said Ibra Wane, equity strategist at Amundi, in a note this week.
The European healthcare index has risen 8% since the late December low, underperforming most other industries and lagging behind an 11% rise in the benchmark STOXX 600.
Pharma and medical equipment companies from BTG to BB Biotech and Fresenius Medical Care are among the most exposed individual companies, with 67-90% of total sales derived from the United States.
Capital goods companies Ashtead and Ferguson are also high up on the list, with more than 80% of their sales made to the United States.
(Reporting by Josephine Mason and Ritvik Carvalho; Graphics by Ritvik Carvalho; Editing by Catherine Evans)
By Josephine Mason and Ritvik Carvalho