4 April 2020
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This threat of the unknown is worrying. So how bad is it going to be?

How will Trump's tariffs hurt our economic growth and your income?

Peter Switzer
8 March 2018

The Trump tariff terrorist play continues to spook the market. This threat of the unknown about the extent of the tariffs, what companies, as well as what countries will be badly affected if a trade war results, are all questions worrying market-influential stock players.

And ahead of the President giving details Thursday afternoon US-time (or Friday morning our time), Donald has tweeted the following: “Looking forward to 3:30 P.M. meeting today at the White House. We have to protect & build our Steel and Aluminum Industries while at the same time showing great flexibility and cooperation toward those that are real friends and treat us fairly on both trade and the military.”

So I guess we’ll see if we’re friends with Trump USA by 8 am and then our stock market will try to work out if the overall implications of the tariff changes will be a positive or negative. Of course, if we get treated well but China gets screwed, then that could be bad for us and the likes of BHP, Rio and Fortescue.

Meanwhile, we have another economic curve ball to deal with and that’s the weaker than expected economic growth number we saw on Wednesday. The consensus of economists expected 0.5%-0.6% but it came in at 0.4%. This disappointed an optimist on the economy like yours truly but there were some surprisingly good aspects of this data that has kept my hopes up that 2018 will be stronger than 2017.

Now remember this was the last quarter growth of last year and here are the big revelations:

• The economy grew by 0.4% in the December quarter after growing 0.7% in the September quarter.

• Annual economic growth eased from 2.9% to 2.4%.

• The biggest contribution to growth came from household consumption (+0.6 percentage points), government consumption (+0.3pp), public investment (+0.2pp) and private equipment (+0.1pp).

• The biggest drag on growth was from private non-dwelling construction (-0.5pp), net exports (-0.5pp) and dwelling investment (-0.1pp).

• 13 of the 19 industry sectors expanded in the December quarter.

• The best growers were Information media and Telecommunications (+2.9%) and Rental, hiring and real estate services (+2.5%).

This was CommSec’s Craig James’ take on the numbers: “The annual rate of economic growth eased in the December quarter of last year but that’s to be expected – figures bounce around from month to month and quarter to quarter.

“And it is even more understandable given the length of our record economic expansion but economic growth is likely to lift over 2018. We share the Reserve Bank’s view that growth will be stronger this year than last year.”

He thinks the economy will grow by 2.9% in 2018, after 2.3% growth in 2017.

What I loved was the fact that consumer spending finished 2017 strongly and James says it will be supported over 2018 by a stronger job market, low interest rates and slightly firmer wage growth. Meanwhile, he argues “business spending will be supported by record profitability, domestic infrastructure projects and a buoyant global economy.”

This is all good stuff for an optimist but I like this as well from James: “It is always important to remember that two months have passed since the economic growth figures. And more recent data suggests the economy has started 2018 with solid momentum.”

Thank you Craig. So it looks like my optimism on our economy, based on the recent run of data, is credible but wait there’s more to this subdued growth story for the December quarter.

This is what Shane Oliver from AMP noted about the numbers: “There is good reason to expect growth to continue and pick up a bit: the drag from falling mining investment is nearly over, non-mining investment is turning up, public investment is strong, trade should add to growth and profits are rising. But growth is likely to be constrained to just below 3% this year and underlying inflation is likely to remain low.”

What I liked was the fact that “household spending accelerated sharply, lifting by 1% over the quarter — the largest increase in over a year — helped by an even larger increase in employee wages which grew by 1.1%.” (Business Insider)

Remember many experts were telling us that the consumer is dead and buried and forget wage rises but it looks like the Aussie consumer is up and walking with more dough in their pockets.

Also an against-the-trend fall in exports dragged this growth number down and actually subtracted from the improvement in the domestic economy.

As Craig James and Shane Oliver implied, trade is expected to add to growth over 2018 and, of course, this is where the Trump tariffs will have a lot of importance to us.

The tariffs themselves, plus the possible global trade war that results, could hurt our exports and that could then hit our economic growth performance across 2018.

We didn’t need these terrible Trump tariff tantrums timed to trash our potential economic growth.

Not happy Donald. Not happy!

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