One of the trade war’s big victims could be Apple. While much of the trade war panic has been focused on other products, Apple could be the biggest victim to suffer. The the reason why may have more to do with sentiment than with tariffs. While there is much talk of Chinese “national champions”, Apple is undoubtedly an American national champion in China, and with sentiment souring against the US in the face of the trade war, it is likely that Chinese consumers will move towards purchasing domestic smart phones. Apple will be forced to raise prices because of tariffs, which would accelerate the trade. China accounts for about 18% of Apple’s revenue and a higher percentage of its profits.
FINSUM: There could be a big hit to Apple’s top and bottom lines here. China could also take measures to specifically wound Apple the way Washington has done to Huawei. Anything seems to be fair game right now.
The trade war has far reaching consequences. One way to think about it, as bleak as it sounds, is that there is no winner whatsoever. However, there are sectors, ETFs, and stocks that will likely lose more than others. The technology, materials, and industrial sectors stand to lose the most in a prolonged trade war as they have the largest proportion of manufacturing in China and the highest proportion of Chinese customers. Boeing and Ingersoll-Rand, for instance, are both very exposed to China. However, the greatest pain is likely to be felt by technology companies in the iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF like Qualcomm, Micron Technology, Broadcom, and Texas Instruments.
FINSUM: Basically anyone making or selling a large amount of products in China is in trouble. We also wonder about how increased tariffs would flow through to retailers who source a high percentage of their products in China (e.g. Walmart, Target etc.).
President Trump has taken a flurry of brisk actions as part of the ongoing trade spat between China and the US. After hiking tariffs and considering more, Trump now officially took the step of effectively outlawing US business with Huawei. He issued an executive order that gives the Commerce secretary power to review any transactions that could pose a risk to national security. The US Department of Commerce also put Huawei on its “Entity List”, which means US companies will need to apply for a license before doing business with it.
FINSUM: To be completely honest we are quite worried about the implications of this trade war and how it could play out on many fronts. The trade war almost feels like a microcosm of the larger political and cultural leadership struggle between the US and China and that worries us.
The 2020 presidential election is still about a year and half away, yet a large number of investors have already made changes to their portfolios based on potential outcomes. Some 40% of investors say they have adjusted their portfolios because of the upcoming election, according to a recent survey. The reality is that investors are worried about a Democratic sweep of the presidency, House, and Senate, which could mean a serious rollback of Trump-era policies, including tax cuts. “If Biden continues to poll this well into the beginning of next year ahead of the primaries, he is gonna start to have some negative effect on the market”, says Tony Roth of Wilmington Trust.
FINSUM: We can’t help but agree with that last assessment. That said, we think negative effects will be slow and steady, not sharp moves.
Yesterday was an ugly reminder of the fourth quarter. The Nasdaq fell 3.4%, its worst decline since December 4th. The S&P 500 wasn’t much better. The big falls came on the announcement that Trump was considering raising tariffs on a further $300 bn of Chinese imports following the failure of negotiations last week. Investors are anxious that the trade war may continue to escalate and impact the global economy. One economist summarized the situation this way, saying “The confrontation has now escalated to a battle of testosterone between two leaders who believe they have much to prove to their constituents. But the longer this exhibition of chest-beating lasts, the greater the odds of a US, if not global, recession”.
FINSUM: Though recently we have been more placid, a couple of months ago we were worried that a deal might be hard to complete because of how much China has on the line politically. The country’s unelected leaders need to keep their people happy, which means the stakes are incredibly high for them.