The trade war between the US and China has been pretty intense for some months, but many are wondering if it is headed for a cool down as the countries come to an agreement. The odds of such a development look bleak, according to Bloomberg, because each side’s alternative is looking better. Trump and Xi will meet at the G-20 summit this week to talk over their country’s trade issues, but given that both countries have realized they have good options outside of one another, it seems unlikely a deal will materialize.
FINSUM: We think a symbolic deal could still happen, but it is hard to envision an impactful and comprehensive deal being agreed any time soon.
Hong Kong has erupted into full scale riots with over 1m people taking to the streets. Protesters are angry over a new measure that would allow mainland China to extradite accused criminals from Hong Kong to their courts, a measure which many in Hong Kong say is a clear violation of China’s agreement to leave Hong Kong’s freedoms in place for 50 years. The US has condemned the measure in serious terms, but the reality is that Hong Kong’s fate, and the US’ protection of the city-state, may become a pawn in the trade war, with the US government using it as an element to help it get a better deal.
FINSUM: This seems like one more way for Beijing to exert control on Hong Kong, and we dislike it as much as the protesters on the street. There has been a furious international backlash to the proposal, but it remains to be seen how it may impact the trade war. One more thing we think is important to note: there are 85,000 Americans living in Hong Kong.
The next phase of the US-China trade war is coming, and it looks like it may be even worse. At the beginning both sides focused on levying higher tariffs on more goods, then Trump took the step of limiting China’s access to semiconductors with his ban on Huawei. Now the next phase may be much more specific and potentially damaging for the US—China is likely to limit the US’ access to rare earths used to make all kinds of technology devices. Access to such rare earth elements is one of the biggest US weaknesses in tech and Beijing has the power to block access because the US imports 80% of its rare earths from China.
FINSUM: It is hard to tell how bad this could be. On the one hand, the total US imports of Chinese rare earths are only $160m, but on the other, if there is not another easy source then it could hamstring the businesses that use them.
The market has been worried that the trade war may prove inflationary. Higher tariffs would mean higher prices passed along to customers, in turn raising inflation. This is scary because it means the US could get caught in a stagnant economy with higher inflation, which would keep the Fed from cutting. However, the reality is that the trade war may in fact be deflationary instead. The reason why is two-part. Firstly, governments, businesses, and consumers are likely to take actions to off-set the rise in costs; and secondly, the economic toll may hurt the economy so that prices cannot rise.
FINSUM: We do not think tariffs will be inflationary. Thinking of them as automatically inflationary is very narrow-minded, as it does not actually take into account the effects tariffs will have on aggregate demand.
Ten-year yields are low, very low, compared to where they were just a few months ago. Recently poor news on the trade front has sent yields spiraling lower, all the way down to 2.30%. The speed of the rally in Treasuries also prompts the interesting question of whether China weaponizing its Treasury holdings even matters. Yields have fallen so steeply, and there is so much momentum supporting the bonds, that even if China were to dump its holdings, it is hard to imagine that yields could jump back to even where they were a few months ago.
FINSUM: Let’s say hypothetically that China dumps its Treasuries. How far would ten-year yields rise? Maybe to 2.8%? We wouldn’t even be back to where we were in the fourth quarter, and it is hard to imagine that move having much of an impact on the economy itself.