Most experts are predicting a recovery in bank IT spending, and an uptick is indeed underway. But according to Gartner, the next dark cloud is just around the corner. Gartner says the European debt crisis will cause a third of European institutions to fail in the next two years and will crimp IT spending for banks around the world. Other experts, however, believe U.S. banks won't be affected for some time.

Gartner has revised its overall outlook for global IT spending across industries to 3.7 percent growth, or $3.8 trillion, from its previous forecast of 4.6 percent growth. It's blaming the European debt crisis and shortages in hard disc drive production, driven in part by flooding in Asian manufacturing regions. In 2011, global IT spending totalled $3.7 billion, up 6.9 percent from 2010, the research firm said.

Developments in Europe have crept along over the past year like a lurking monster that's far away and hasn't yet attacked, but is still looming in the distance. While it seems as though Greece has been teetering on the brink of default forever, the belief that some sort of severe shakeout is inevitable will impact the European banking industry in a way that will create a sense of caution in banks around the world.

"If you were to ask a few months ago, I would say we were looking at low single-digit growth in U.S. bank IT spending. But if the uncertainty and volatility continue, you may see flat growth," said Jim Washburn, global practice leader for core banking at Cap Gemini Financial Services, in an interview with BTN in which he discussed bank IT spending trends for 2012 (he was not commenting on this week's revision from Gartner).

Gartner earlier projected worldwide bank IT spending would increase to $299.3 billion in 2012, up from $287 billion in 2011. The research firm didn't release specific changes to bank IT spending forecasts. In a release, Gartner research vice president Richard Gordon said, "Faltering economic growth, the Euro zone crisis and the impact of Thailand's floods…have taken their toll on the outlook for IT spending." Gordon was not available for an interview on Wednesday.

Regionally, Europe will be hardest hit — Gartner says an uncertain outlook will lead to a 0.7 percent decline in IT spending for 2011. And in the European banking sector, the research firm is predicting outright carnage — Gartner says major national defaults in Europe will lead to the collapse of one-third of European banks over the next two years.

Gartner says the banking industry that emerges in Europe will be more heavily reliant on digital and cloud-delivered technology — by 2015 it says external social Web and cloud-based services will generate 25 percent of consumer-driven banking products and services. It also predicts that social networks will become an important delivery channel for insurance sales.

Predicting how events in Europe will impact bank IT projects and spending in the U.S. is an inexact science, because any impact would be well into the future, after the shock of events in Europe has already faded. Most bank IT budgets in the U.S. are already set for 2012, and in many cases large core banking projects such as core banking upgrades new channel deployments are already underway-cancelling these projects now could cost more money than it would save.

In an earlier interview on bank IT spending, Lisa Kart, a research director at Gartner, said "The [European debt crisis] situation is looking more dire from our perspective. In North America and Asia so far there has been less impact. The [bank IT] industry is poised for growth but it could be affected by the European debt crisis. The impact [in the U.S.] is more pre-emptive-spending plans are in place for 2012, so there may not be an effect until 2013. But that may not be true for Europe," where Kart says budget tightening may be more near term.

Further complicating matters is the recent Thailand floods, which have left a third of the country underwater, impacting hardware manufacturing and storage. Gordon said the supply of hard drives may be reduced as much as 25 percent over the next nine months, and the time needed to rebuild destroyed facilities will create ripple effects that will impact supply into 2013. Gartner has reduced its shipment forecast for PCs, which it says compounds the already cautious environment for hardware spending in general.