President Trump is either building up trade walls or tearing them down, but no matter which view is right, he’s definitely putting investors and Wall Street on edge.
On Friday the White House said it would proceed with plans to sock $50 billion in Chinese goods with steep tariffs after talks on removing trade barriers in China got nowhere. And even though Trump promised to ratchet up sanctions if China retaliated, China quickly vowed a tit-for-tat response.
The specter of a widening trade war between the world’s two largest economies upended the U.S. stock market last week — and the effects could be felt for weeks to come.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.34% gained 3.7% in the first two weeks of June, for instance, before pulling back on news that a portion of the tariffs would go into effect in early July. Interest rates TMUBMUSD10Y, -0.62% also fell.
A light economic calendar this week is likely to keep the attention of investors focused on trade. Several senior officials at the Federal Reserve will also be asked about growing trade tensions in public appearances.
Time to panic?
Wall Street pros say no, but then, they never thought Trump would publicly attack Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau or that the tariffs would actually be applied. For now most economists continue to take a wait-and-see approach.
“Neither side wants to go down this path,” contends senior economist Sam Bullard of Wells Fargo Advisors. “I get the feeling that a lot of what we are seeing right now are negotiating positions being staked out to get to a final deal.”
The disputes with China, Europe, Canada and Mexico over trade is really the only dark cloud hanging over the U.S. economy, a testament to the durability of an expansion that just turned nine years old. Consumers have increased spending, businesses are investing more, hiring is strong and unemployment has fallen to an 18-year low.
As a result, gross domestic product is on track for heady 4%-plus growth in the second quarter
“If it weren’t for trade right now, the U.S. economy would be hitting on all cylinders,” Bullard said.
Even if the trade disputes worsen, the harm to the U.S. economy will probably be limited for the next few months. Trade plays a much smaller role in the U.S. than it does in China and most of the rest of the world. It would take a little time for the damage to spread here, though less so overseas.
“For now, the impact of the $50 billion tariff tit-for-tat with China appears manageable for the U.S. economy,” said chief economist Scott Anderson of Bank of the West. “Our models project only a modest increase in overall consumer inflation and a small hit to U.S. GDP growth.”
What no model can do, however, is predict what unpredictable president like Donald Trump will do next. Just ask Justin Trudeau.