Dismal overall European sales were a recurring theme among big U.S. and European companies reporting first quarter results in the past fortnight.
But beneath the headline numbers was a clear trend of a bifurcated economy - recovery in Germany and the Nordic countries combined with further sales drops in Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal.
"Germany, the Netherlands, the UK, and the Nordic had pretty good orders performance and Southern Europe is in a lot tougher shape. So there's a real split going on there in terms of the economic activity," Keith Sherin, General Electric Co.(GE.N) Vice Chairman and Chief Financial Officer told analysts last week.
Swiss engineering group ABB (ABBN.VX) said its orders in the first quarter were up in Germany by 14 percent, in Britain by 12 percent and in Sweden by 21 percent compared to the same period last year. Italy was down by 26 percent.
Food group Danone (DANO.PA) said it saw the negative first quarter trend in southern Europe continuing into the second quarter.