A headline I never like writing is “It’s war!”
I had to broadcast it when Kuwait was invaded and George Bush Sr. sent the US troops in. Then his son declared “war on terrorism.” But I never believed in these years of economic enlightenment that I’d have to seriously consider a trade war was likely.
But this has become a new Trump reality. And once again, living with Donald is like we’re all living in a reality TV show, with the US President throwing curve balls at us all to see how we dodge them!
And while it could be entertaining or frightening to anyone who’s fascinated with the craziness or the pure genius of Trump, for market watchers like me (I want to see my stocks and those of my clients, readers, subscribers, viewers and listeners go up), he is becoming a real challenge.
His ‘art of the deal’ tactics come with a lot of gambling, bluffing, blustering and terrible tweeting, and the likes of which we’ve never seen before from a political leader. While it looks like it might have worked with North Korea’s wild and wacky leader, Kim Jong-un, I’m not really confident that Donald will prevail over China, Europe, Mexico and Canada when it comes to his tariff play that now threatens a trade war.
To understand the current money implications, the Dow Jones Index has been on a five-day losing streak. Each loss isn’t dramatic but they all add up to a conclusion that influential traders are worried about what a trade war might mean for individual stocks.
Overnight, the Dow was down 103 points to 24,987. Over five days, the loss is only about 1.2% but without these Trump trade twists, stocks would be higher on both good economic and earnings news from top US companies.
And here the economic story and its implications on company earnings should be pushing our stock market higher, especially as the Royal Commission into the financial sector goes into its final phase.
Banks’ share prices are starting to sneak up and if there weren’t so many Trump tariff and trade war concerns, I’m sure our stock prices and our super funds would be beneficiaries.
To be fair, Trump is fighting for fairness in trade. His calling out of China for stealing USA’s intellectual property is a fair call. A few years back, it was a news story that Calvin Klein would release a new product range and within 24 hours it was on the streets of Beijing! Clearly, it was not his underwear range, though I did see a lot of Chinese in what looked like PJs walking the streets of Shanghai when I was last there! (Some older Chinese have unusual attitudes to where and when you wear Western clothing but that’s an aside.)
Also the Europeans, especially the French, have been protecting their unproductive farmers for decades, so there have been some anomalies in Europe’s support for free trade.
But let’s not kid ourselves. The Yanks also put barriers in the way of exporters trying to sell stuff to Americans.
President Trump is taking a big gamble slamming the likes of China tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods and has made the Chinese threaten a 25% tariff on $34 billion of US goods starting in early July, if Donald goes ahead with his tough trade talk.
As the clock ticks down and we all go along for the ride with Donald’s dramatic deal making, the stock market’s drops should become deeper and more worrying as the deadline to a trade war draws close.
Our stock market, already suffering from the slugs to our banks from the Royal Commission, really didn’t need another trumping from Donald. I think we’re poised to see our stock market rebound but this possible trade war will be no help.
The best description of Donald and his high-risk policy gambles came from US economist Ed Yardeni of Yardeni Research. He argues that protectionism brings more negatives than positives and his take on the President seems so apt: “Still, stocks may continue to zig and zag through the summer as the Jekyll and Hyde sides of Trump struggle to dominate his persona,” he said. “On the one hand, there's Trump, the Deregulator and Tax-Cutter—his benevolent Dr Jekyll persona. On the other is Trump, the Protectionist—his dark Mr Hyde." (CNBC)
If Donald avoids a trade war, he will be Dr Jekyll. If he creates a full-blown trade battle, he’ll be a damn stupid Mr Hyde, whose hide could be well and truly tanned at the November mid-term elections.