Posts tagged ‘imports’

Trade War Bark: Hold Tight or Nasty Bite?


In recent weeks, President Trump has come out viciously barking about potential trade wars, not only with China, but also with other allies, including key trade collaborators in Europe, Canada, and Mexico. What does this all mean? Should you brace for a nasty financial bite in your portfolio, or should you remain calm and hold tight?

Let’s take a closer look. Recent talks of trade wars and tit-for-tat retaliations have produced mixed results for the stock market. For the month, the S&P 500 index advanced +0.5% (+1.7% year-to-date), while the Dow Jones Industrial Average modestly retreated -0.6% (-1.8% YTD). Despite trade war concerns and anxiety over a responsibly cautious Federal Reserve increasing interest rates, the economy remains strong. Not only is unemployment at an impressively low level of 3.8% (tying the lowest rate seen since 1969), but corporate profits are at record levels, thanks to a healthy economy and stimulative tax cuts. Consumers are feeling quite well regarding their financial situation too. For instance, household net worth has surpassed $100 trillion dollars, while debt ratios are declining (see chart below).

house balance

Source:  Scott Grannis

Although trade is presently top-of-mind among many investors, a lot of the fiery rhetoric emanating from Washington should come as no surprise. The president heavily campaigned on the idea of reducing uniform unfair Chinese trade policies and leveling the trade playing field. It took about a year and a half before the president actually pulled out the tariff guns. The first $50 billion tariff salvo has been launched by the Trump administration against China, and an additional $200 billion in tariffs have been threatened. So far, Trump has enacted tariffs on imported steel, aluminum, solar panels, washing machines and other Chinese imports.

It’s important to understand, we are in the very early innings of tariff implementation and trade negotiations. Therefore, the scale and potential impact from tariffs and trade wars should be placed in the proper context relative to our $20 trillion U.S. economy (annual Gross Domestic Product) and the $16 trillion in annual global trade.

Stated differently, even if the president’s proposed $50 billion in Chinese tariffs quadruples in value to $200 billion, the impact on the overall economy will be minimal – less than 1% of the total. Even if you go further and consider our country’s $375 billion trade deficit with China for physical goods (see chart below), significant reductions in the Chinese trade deficit will still not dramatically change the trajectory of economic growth.

china trade

Source: BBC 

The Tax Foundation adds support to the idea that current tariffs should have minimal influence:

“The tariffs enacted so far by the Trump administration would reduce long-run GDP by 0.06 percent ($15 billion) and wages by 0.04 percent and eliminate 48,585 full-time equivalent jobs.”

Of course, if the China trade skirmish explodes into an all-out global trade war into key regions like Europe, Mexico, Canada, and Japan, then all bets are off. Not only would inflationary pressures be a drag on the economy, but consumer and business confidence would dive and they would drastically cut back on spending and negatively pressure the economy.

Most investors, economists, and consumers recognize the significant benefits accrued from free trade in the form of lower-prices and a broadened selection. In the case of China, cheaper Chinese imports allow the American masses to buy bargain toys from Wal-Mart, big-screen televisions from Best Buy, and/or leading-edge iPhones from the Apple Store. Most reasonable people also understand these previously mentioned consumer benefits can be somewhat offset by the costs of intellectual property/trade secret theft and unfair business practices levied on current and future American businesses doing business in China.

Trump Playing Chicken

Right now, Trump is playing a game of chicken with our global trading partners, including our largest partner, China. If his threats of imposing stiffer tariffs and trade restrictions result in new and better bilateral trade agreements (see South Korean trade deal), then his tactics could prove beneficial. However, if the threat and imposition of new tariffs merely leads to retaliatory tariffs, higher prices (i.e., inflation), and no new deals, then this mutually destructive outcome will likely leave our economy worse off.

Critics of Trump’s tariff strategy point to the high profile announcement by Harley-Davidson to move manufacturing production from the United States to overseas plants. Harley made the decision because the tariffs are estimated to cost the company up to $100 million to move production overseas. As part of this strategy, Harley has also been forced to consider motorcycle price hikes of $2,200 each. On the other hand, proponents of Trump’s trade and economic policies (i.e., tariffs, reduced regulations, lower taxes) point to the recent announcement by Foxconn, China’s largest private employer. Foxconn works with technology companies like Apple, Amazon, and HP to help manufacture a wide array of products. Due to tax incentives, Foxconn is planning to build a $10 billion plant in Wisconsin that will create 13,00015,000 high-paying jobs. Wherever you stand on the political or economic philosophy spectrum, ultimately Americans will vote for the candidates and policies that benefit their personal wallets/purses. So, if retaliatory measures by foreign countries introduces inflation and slowly grinds trade to a halt, voter backlash will likely result in politicians being voted out of office due to failed trade policies.

eps jul 18

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Time will tell whether the current trade policies and actions implemented by the current administration will lead to higher costs or greater benefits. Talk about China tariffs, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership), and other reciprocal trade negotiations will persist, but these trading relationships are extremely complex and will take a long time to resolve. While I am explicitly against tariff policies in general, I am not an alarmist or doomsayer, at this point. Currently, the trade war bark is worse than the bite. If the situation worsens, the history of politics proves nothing is permanent. Circumstances and opinions are continually changing, which highlights why politics has a way of improving or changing policies through the power of the vote. While many news stories paint a picture of imminent, critical tariff pain, I believe it is way too early to come to that conclusion. The economy remains strong, corporate profits are at record levels (see chart above), interest rates remain low historically, and consumers overall are feeling better about their financial situation. It is by no means a certainty, but if improved trade agreements can be established with our key trading partners, fears of an undisciplined barking and biting trade dog could turn into a tame smooching puppy that loves trade.


Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (July 3, 2018). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AAPL, AMZN, and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in WMT, HOG, HPQ, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

July 5, 2018 at 1:59 pm Leave a comment

Drought in Higher Rates May Be Over


The drought in higher interest rates may be nearing an end? Ever since the global financial crisis accelerated into full force in the fall of 2008, there were a constant flow of coordinated interest rate cuts triggered around the world with the aim of stimulating global GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and improving credit flow through the clogged financial pipes. Central banks across the world cut key benchmark interest rate levels and the impact of these reductions has a direct influence on what consumers pay for their financial products and services. More recently, we have begun to see the reversal of previous cuts with rate hikes witnessed in several international markets. Last week we saw Norway become the first western European country to raise rates, following an earlier October rate lift by Australia and another by Israel in August. For some countries, the sentiment has switched from global collapse fears to a stabilization posture coupled with future inflation concerns. In the U.S., the data has been more mixed (read article here) and the Federal Reserve has been clear on its intention to keep short-term rates at abnormally low levels for an extended period of time. That stance would likely change with evidence of inflationary pressures or improved job market conditions.

What Does This Mean for Consumers?

Prior to the financial crisis, credit availability flourished at affordably low rates. Now, with signs of a potential global recovery matched with regulatory overhauls, consumers may be impacted in several financial areas: 

1)      Credit Card Rates: Beyond regulatory changes in Washington (read more), the interest rate charged on unpaid credit card balances may be on the rise. When the Federal Reserve inevitably raises the targeted Federal Funds Rate (the interest rate for loans made between banks) from the current target rate range of 0.00% and 0.25%, this action will likely have direct upward pressure on consumer credit card rates. The associated increase in key benchmark rates such as the Prime Rate (the rate charged to a bank’s most creditworthy customers) and LIBOR (London Interbank Offer Rate) would result in higher monthly interest payments for consumers.

2)      Other Consumer Loans: Many of the same forces impacting credit card rates will also impact other consumer loans, like home mortgages and auto loans. Pull out your loan documents – if you have floating or variable rate loans then you may be exposed to future hikes in interest rates.

3)      Business Loans / Lines of Credit: Business owners -not just consumers – can also be impacted by rising rates. When the cost of funding goes up (.i.e., interest rates), the banks look to pass on those higher costs to the customer so the account profitability can be maintained.

4)      Dollar & Import Prices: To the extent subsequent United States rate hikes lag other countries around the world, our dollar runs the risk of depreciating more in value (currency investors, all else equal, prefer currencies earning higher interest rates). A weaker dollar translates into foreign goods and services costing more. If international central banks continue to raise rates faster than the U.S., then imported good inflation could become a larger reality.

5)      Hit to Bond Prices: Higher interest rates can also result in a negative hit to your bond portfolio. Higher duration bonds, those typically with longer maturities and lower relative coupon payments, are the most vulnerable to a rise in interest rates. Consider shortening the duration of your portfolio and even contemplate floating rate bonds.

Interest rates are the cost for borrowed money and even with the recent increase in consumers’ savings rate, consumers generally are still saddled with a lot of debt. Do yourself a favor and review any of your credit card agreements, loan documents, and bond portfolio so you will be prepared for any future interest rate increases. Shopping around for better rates and/or consolidating high interest rate debt into cheaper alternatives are good strategies as we face the inevitable end in the drought of higher global interest rates.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

November 4, 2009 at 2:00 am Leave a comment

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