For most of this year and last, the idea of a nasty full-blown trade war was like a boogey man that stalked investors, but still seemed a slightly distant threat. That is no longer the case, as an ugly trade war has rapidly developed into the status quo. Accordingly, many top analysts, such as at JP Morgan and Nomura, are saying that high US tariffs on China are here to stay. Market volatility is likely to continue as new news continues to stream out.
FINSUM: There is a lot to worry about in this trade war, but one of our immediate, but less discussed, concerns is about the intersection of tariffs, the Fed, and inflation. The tariffs are likely to raise US inflation by boosting prices for goods, which could keep the Fed from hiking, trapping us in a difficult environment.
China has a massive hoard of US Treasury bonds worth over $1.2 tn. Many have speculated that as part of a trade war with the US, Beijing may flood the market with these bonds in an effort to enforce pain on the US economy. Recent market data shows it is likely already happening. China recently dumped $20 bn of Treasuries, a move that cannot be accounted for as part of normal market flows. The move was China’s largest sale in more than two years. The sale came in March, just before US-China trade tensions were again heating up.
FINSUM: Our view is that China is more likely to threaten doing this and perhaps do some in small chunks than actually pull the trigger. However, even if they do, yields have fallen so far recently that it is hard to imagine they would rise much beyond where they were a few months ago.
The trade war is very scary for everybody. From politicians to executives to investors (in both nations), everyone is afraid of the implications of the trade war. However, there are some good reasons not to be. Firstly, while there are fears of a market tailspin, the reality is that the dovish Fed should provide a safety net. Secondly, many worry the trade war could bring the economy to a standstill, but remember that only 2.4% of US economic output is at risk of Chinese tariffs. Finally, many fear China could dump its $1.1 tn of Treasuries. The truth is that doing so is very unlikely, and even if they do, it is a small portion of the $22 tn market.
FINSUM: The general theme to take away here is that China is not as big a part of the US economy and markets as many seem to assume it is. That said, the secondary effects of a trade war, such as the psychological impact on business and the effect on the rest of the world, could be considerable.
In a great example of how Trump’s new tariffs on China will reverberate around the US economy, Nike and Adidas are panicking over the new Trump moves. The pair just led a consortium of 173 companies who penned an open letter to the President imploring him to stop the tariff move immediately. Nike and Adidas say the tariffs will be “catastrophic”. Clothing and footwear already endure some of the highest tariffs, so hiking them further will increase costs and create huge logistical complications. The letter summarized their view this way, saying they will be ”catastrophic for our customers, our companies, and the American economy as a whole”.
FINSUM: If you are a company that makes or imports a lot of your merchandise from China, this is going to be a very rough period. We expect the market will start to take this into account as the full impact of the trade war is digested.
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.