We don’t want to say that investors are sleepwalking into it, but in many ways it seems an apt metaphor. Whether stock investors like it or not, the US trade war with China is continuing apace. The two countries’ negotiations on the issue last week went nowhere, and the US is about to hit Beijing with $200bn more in tariffs. Their response will hurt the US economy, as many of them will be on consumer goods, which could raise prices and lower demand. Industrial stocks are likely to be hit by Beijing’s retaliations. 50% of all Chinese imports will soon be subject to new tariffs.
FINSUM: We are starting to wonder if tariffs might lead to “stagflation” in the near term. In consumer demand ebbs at the same time as prices rise for goods, it seems like a perfect recipe for stagnation and inflation.
The US and China ended two days of trade war negotiations yesterday, and apparently there was little progress. Both sides pressed ahead with enforcing $16 bn of further tariffs on one another. The deputy White House Press Secretary commented at the end of the negotiations that the two countries “exchanged views on how to achieve fairness, balance and reciprocity in the economic relationship”, but made no mention of any material progress being made. One senior Trump administration official added “in order to get a positive result out of these engagements, it’s really critical that they address the fundamental concerns that we have raised. We haven’t seen that yet”.
FINSUM: While the market seemed very hopeful about these talks, the trade battle with China looks likely to keep going for a while yet as the issue seems to be quite intractable.
If you hold luxury retail stocks or are thinking of doing so, think again. With all the fears over a trade war, many luxury stocks look vulnerable. While Gucci owner Kering and Louis Vuitton owner LVMH look insulated, look out for weakness in Burberry, Salvatore Ferragamo, and Swatch. The first two look particularly weak because they are trying to regain traction with consumers at the same time as facing trade tensions (as opposed to Gucci, which is very hot at the moment). Most luxury stocks are currently trading at a premium relative to the market.
FINSUM: In our view, the brands that are already hot are going to stay on the shelves, but ones that haven’t been selling as well will be more impacted by trade tensions as wholesalers can more easily just stop stocking them.
The Wall Street Journal has put out an article painting an interesting, and perhaps realistic, view of how the trade war might play out. Their argument is essentially that the market itself will stop any trade war from becoming too serious. The WSJ says it best, “If the Trump trade war starts to squeeze economic growth, markets will react badly. When this happens, the impatient American president will have no choice but to declare victory, call off the war, and limit the damage”.
FINSUM: We tend to think this view is probably correct. That said, these kind of tariff wars can have unintended consequences that could make the damage more extensive and permanent than it is currently easy to foresee.
An absolute nightmare befell the auto sector yesterday. While the market has been increasingly concerned about the effect of Trump’s metal tariffs and the counter-tariffs from trading partners, yesterday’s meltdown was sparked by poor earnings. It started with GM and Fiat Chrysler, both of whom got walloped on weaker than expected earnings. Then Ford came in with an $11 bn restructuring plan that seemed to contradict the promised $25 bn of cuts it had previously announced. What was odd about the numbers is that they come when the economy is doing quite well. “To have a quarter like this is striking … Every time they turn over a rock, they find more problems”, says one auto market analyst.
FINSUM: Between looming tariffs and weak underlying sales, car companies seemed to be facing a definite reversal of fortunes after several years of good performance.