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2012 economic outlook: What's in store for next year?

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"There will be no Lehman moment," says Zandi, referring to the US investment bank whose financial problems ultimately dried up bank lending, which helped lead to the 2008 Great Recession. In addition, many of the highly indebted nations have new governments that have pledged austerity, he says.

European belt-tightening has ramifications even in the United States. Trade with the EU represents about 2 percent of the US gross domestic product, estimates IHS Global Insight, an economic forecasting firm in Lexington, Mass.

At risk are US capital goods such as machines that help companies make other machines, computers, and auto parts, says John Silvia, chief economist at Wells Fargo Securities in Charlotte, N.C.

Even with the problems in Europe, indications are that the US will be in better shape.

Durable goods manufacturers could have a better year. Auto sales in Detroit are expected to increase by about 6.5 percent, and aerospace shipments will rise by 18 percent as the Boeing Co. starts to deliver its new 787 airplanes and its 747-8 plane, says Daniel Meckstroth, chief economist at Manufacturers Alliance/MAPI in Arlington, Va.

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