Investors have been jolly lately about the progress made in the trade war. Ever since Trump’s announcement of a “phase 1” deal a few weeks ago, trade war concern has been diminishing, with markets rising accordingly. However, there was a reality check today as China made worrying comments, saying that they don’t think any long-term/substantial deal would be possible with Trump, and that they are even worried about him backing out of a simple short-term deal because of his “impulsive nature” (from Bloomberg).
FINSUM: Talk about throwing cold water on something. That said, none of these comments—positive or negative—mean too much. What ends up on paper matters more.
China’s newest GDP data has just come in and it is shockingly weak. Third quarter GDP growth was the lowest in has been since the early 1990s and appears to show the sting of US tariffs. Growth was just 6%, a major sign of the weakening state of the global economy. That is the same level of growth as in the late 1980s, though China’s economy is now far larger. Those paying attention will know that China’s economy grew at around 7-8% per year since the Crisis.
FINSUM: So this is an admitted 6%. Beijing keeps very tight control of its economic data, so it is not inconceivable that the real number is actually lower.
So let’s say you are in the bullish camp and think the US-China trade spat will be resolved soon. What is the best way to profit from that development? All stocks will likely rise, and bond yields will probably rise too. But where will the best gains be? How about small caps. The argument here may seem counterintuitive, but shows an evolution in thinking on the part of investors. At the start of the trade war, many thought small caps would do well as they are less exposed to international trade. However, thinking has changed and investors are now much more focused on which sectors are most exposed. This has led small caps to have a rough year compared to large caps, mostly because there are so many financial stocks in the small cap sector. That said, a resolution of the trade war would suspend downward pressure on rates and allow the sectors which have beaten up to flourish, offering disproportionate gains for small caps.
FINSUM: This is a fairly sophisticated argument based on the proportion of beaten up stocks that are in the small cap asset class. However, it does make a lot of sense.
The US and China might be starting to realize that they really need each other. Each side is feeling the pain, and that is making a deal feel closer. China has seen a 47% rise in pork prices in the last year—a key form of disturbance to its population, and seems to want to resume importing US pork. Trump has just delayed a new round of tariffs as a measure of good faith before Washington and Beijing return to the negotiating table.
FINSUM: It is quite hard to ascertain the degree to which the US and China actually want to close a trade deal. China has grown so large and self-sufficient that it is big enough to get by on its own, which seems to lower its incentive to compromise. The US is in the same position.
Bad news for tech investors and Silicon Valley executives—it looks like Big Tech is going to bear the brunt of the trade war. The group of stocks surged yesterday on the announcement of the delay of tariffs on China. This is because a major part of the tariffs relates to hardware that is core to technology companies’ products. Most specifically, the Treasury said it would delay tariffs until December 15th on “cellphones, laptop computers, videogame consoles, certain toys, computer monitors, and certain items of footwear and clothing”.
FINSUM: While this development offers some relief, it will likely be fleeting. The trade war with China is looking increasingly intractable and tech is right in the middle of it.