President Trump has been leading a tumultuous trade war with the US’ largest trading partners. So far his efforts have put tariffs on many different goods, but with metals being the single most notable materials. However, a new interview with the President suggests that the metal tariffs were just an opening act to a much bigger area: autos. In an interview with Fox News yesterday, Trump said “You know, the cars are the big one … We can talk steel, we talk everything. The big thing is cars”. Trump is reportedly planning a 20% tariff on all imported cars as part of a national security measure.
FINSUM: We believe this would be a major line in the sand to the US’ trading partners. Both our Nafta partners and the EU, and maybe Japan, would be furious about this, but it is a major source of leverage for the US.
In what seems to be a perfect study in the law of untended consequences, the government’s new focus on tariffs are driving US manufacturers out of the country. American motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson (side note: can you think of a company more American than Harley-Davidson) has announced it will move some production off-shore because of retaliatory EU tariffs on American motorcycles. Europe is one of the biggest consumers of US products, including for Harley, and the company does not want to lose market share by raising prices for European consumers.
FINSUM: This is the downside of a trade war. Trump wants to have more US manufacturing jobs at home, but retaliations can cause perverse economic incentives to move manufacturing overseas.
The trade war between the US and China is intensifying. Investors will already be aware of the tit-for-tat $50 bn tariff packages the US and China have placed on each other, as well as Trump’s plan for a further $200 bn to be applied. However, the news is that Trump is now also preparing a comprehensive package of blockages to Chinese direct investment into the US. The amount of Chinese overseas investment flowing into the US has already plummeted to $1.8 bn in the first half of 2018, down from nearly $50 in 2016.
FINSUM: This trade spat just keeps escalating. The big risk is if China decides to sell US Treasuries and agency bonds as a payback, but we think that is still a few steps away.
Last week was a brutal one for markets. The Dow fell about 2% over the week as the index approached its longest losing streak since 1978. However, the reality, according to Barron’s, is that the US is winning the trade war, at least so far. Trump has already imposed $50 of tariffs, which China responded to in kind. However, Trump is planning another $200 bn, while China only imports a total of $130 bn of goods, meaning they have much less room to retaliate. Further, US financial markets are much more broad and deep, meaning there are more places for investors to safely stash their money.
FINSUM: China does not have too many options to retaliate. If they devalue the yuan it will really hurt their markets; if they sell Treasury bonds they will either find no buyers (if they sell a lot at once) or the market will just absorb it in smaller bits.
A week ago it didn’t seem like it was going to happen, but nonetheless it is. Trump plans to move ahead with imposing $50 bn worth of tariffs on China starting as soon as tomorrow. The move is expected to bring heavy retaliation from Beijing. Several days ago, China made a conciliatory offer to boost purchases of US goods by tens of billions of Dollars.
FINSUM: We think the US’ approach to link the trade situation to working with China on North Korea is not a very smart angle, as nuclear security and agricultural goods don’t sit comfortably.
President Trump seems to have emerged from the summit with North Korea with a very high degree of confidence that the situation there has been handled. Trump put in writing yesterday that “there is no longer a nuclear threat of North Korea”. Interestingly, North Korean state media also reported the meeting as a major success, but did not mention denuclearization at all. Trump did backtrack a bit, saying “I may be wrong. I mean, I may stand before you in six months and say ‘Hey, I was wrong’. I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse”.
FINSUM: We think this summit was a success and that Kim has played the whole situation very sharply. Our only concern is the lack of detail about how North Korea will actually go about denuclearizing.