Trump Threatens Europe: "We Will Tax Your Cars
3 March, 2018
This is how trade wars escalate: Trump hasn't even officially announced the steel and aluminum import tariffs, expected to be formally unveiled this coming week, and the rhetoric is already one of World Trade War I doom and gloom.
On Saturday, Trump's resolve appears only to be hardened. For one, Trump's newly reincarnated foreign trade advisor said that the tariffs will likely be signed early next week. On Friday, Navarro also made clear that there wouldn't be any exemptions, for either Canada or other US allies:
“I don’t believe any country in the world is going to retaliate for the simple reason we are the most lucrative and biggest market in the world,” Navarro told Fox News Friday. “They know they’re cheating us. All we’re doing is standing up for ourselves.”
The United States has an $800 Billion Dollar Yearly Trade Deficit because of our “very stupid” trade deals and policies. Our jobs and wealth are being given to other countries that have taken advantage of us for years. They laugh at what fools our leaders have been. No more!
Trade Wars are Bad, and Nobody Wins
Yesterday’s announcement by President Trump of imminent tariffs on steel and aluminum imports was taken poorly by global stock markets. Perhaps in an attempt to convince investors this was an incorrect response, early this morning he tweeted that “trade wars are good, and easy to win.” He is wrong, and beyond the simple fact of his wrongness, a trade war is probably more dangerous for investors at this time than at any other time in recent history given the implications it would have for inflation, monetary policy, and economic growth. The only positive from the tariffs is that it is a windfall profit increase for U.S. producers of steel and aluminum, which is at least positive for them. It is unlikely to cause any material increase in U.S. capacity to produce steel and aluminum and therefore unlikely to lead to many additional jobs even in those sectors. The negatives are much more significant. I believe these tariffs on their own will push inflation higher, and higher inflation is a threat to the valuations of more or less all financial assets today. But the greater threat is that this escalates into an actual trade war. A trade war would increase prices on a much broader array of goods and services, while simultaneously depressing aggregate global demand. This pushes us in the direction of not just inflation but stagflation, where both valuations and corporate cash flow would be under pressure. While there are scenarios that would be worse for financial markets—the proverbial asteroid on a collision path with Earth comes to mind—a trade war has the potential to be very bad for both the global economy and investor portfolios.
As I wrote about last December, a significant inflation problem might well be the worst thing that could happen to a balanced portfolio, leading to losses on the order of 40%. A global trade war would be exactly the kind of economic event that could foreseeably lead to losses of that magnitude.
Trade Wars are Bad
As a general rule, when you add “war” to your description of an event, it’s a pretty strong suggestion that it is unlikely to be either good or easy. Wars are sometimes well intentioned (the war on drugs), occasionally necessary (World War II), but seldom good and more or less never easy to win. Even if you do “win” easily, the longer term implications are often more problematic than you thought (the second Iraq War). There is still some time for this particular war to be averted. But while it is our general contention that equity markets tend to overreact to political and economic events, this is not one of those times