WASHINGTON– 1. Wall Street’s trade nightmare: President Trump’s crackdown on China shocked Wall Street.
But investors shouldn’t have been caught off guard by Trump’s tough stance. He has been remarkably consistent on trade — for years, if not decades.
“China has our jobs and Mexico has our jobs,” Trump said in his June 2015 presidential announcement speech, which mentioned China 26 times.
Trump complained that day that the United States never beats China in a trade deal. “They kill us,” he said, echoing comments he’s made since at least the 1980s.
Yet Wall Street chose to ignore this trade risk — until now.
After Trump’s election, euphoric investors focused exclusively on the pro-growth elements of his agenda — lower taxes, lighter regulation and more infrastructure spending. The market largely ignored the anti-growth parts, namely tighter trade and immigration policies.
“It should come as no surprise. He campaigned on it,” said Mark Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Capital.
Luschini noted that Peter Navarro, a top Trump trade official, wrote a book called “Death by China.”
“We’re getting what we were told we were going to get,” Luschini said.
Barclays chief US economist Michael Gapen said in a report that “we have long believed protectionist policies are at the core of the president’s agenda.” Gapen noted that “his rhetoric against trade extends back to the 1980s.”
Wall Street’s early focus on taxes and regulation paid off while Trump was executing that part of his agenda, lifting the market to record highs. The tax law has been especially helpful to big business and shareholders.
But as Gapen notes, “anti-trade policies, particularly tariffs, act like a tax on consumers and business by raising the cost of trade.”
Investors had understandably hoped that Trump would be dissuaded from protectionist moves by free trade supporters like Gary Cohn, the former chief economic adviser, and Rex Tillerson, the former secretary of state.
But both Cohn and Tillerson are gone now, clearing the way for trade hawks like Navarro, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Cohn’s replacement, Larry Kudlow, is a fierce defender of free trade.
“Kudlow, when is your first day at work?” Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, wrote in a report. “How far does this go? How much will it cost American business and American consumers as we find out?”
Investors still hope Trump can be talked off the trade war ledge. Consider how Trump’s bark ended up being worse than his bite on steel and aluminum tariffs, which have been watered down significantly.
If Trump does walk back his stance on China, it may be the stock market that is the catalyst. After all, Trump views the market as a report card. And last week’s grades weren’t pretty.
2. Tariff tensions: Investors may look back on last week as the first big step toward a trade war.
On Thursday, Trump announced tariffs on about $50 billion worth of imports to punish China for stealing American tech and trade secrets. The United States also plans to restrict Chinese investment and take action against China at the World Trade Organization.
China has already said it’s considering tariffs on $3 billion worth of US goods, including fresh and dried fruits, nuts, wine, steel pipes, pork and recycled aluminum. Those would be retaliation against the steel and aluminum tariffs that Trump announced earlier this month.
Altogether, China’s list includes 128 American products.
If China retaliates further, American farmers and companies like Apple, Boeing and Intel, which do a lot of business in China, could be at risk.
Within the next two weeks, the US trade representative will publish a list of targeted goods, and China will probably get more specific. Investors are sure to be paying attention.
3. State of the shopper: The Confidence Board reports Tuesday on consumer confidence for March. Last month it was at the highest level since 2000. The University of Michigan shares its consumer survey on Thursday. Preliminary data showed it at the highest level since 2004.
And the Commerce Department releases personal income data for February on Thursday. In January, US personal income ticked up 0.4%.
American shoppers are feeling good. We’ll see next week how that sentiment is holding up — and how much it helped the economy in the fourth quarter. The government gives its final estimate Wednesday for fourth-quarter economic growth. The last estimate showed a solid 2.5%.
4. A constellation of earnings: Athleisure brand Lululemon reports earnings on Tuesday. The company could face tough questions: Its CEO resigned in February after Lululemon claimed he “fell short” of its standards of conduct.
Constellation Brands turns in its results on Thursday. Analysts expect the wine, beer and spirits company to report strong sales of Corona, bolstered by the new Corona Familiar and Corona Premier brands.
Also on deck this week: BlackBerry, Gamestop and Walgreens Boots Alliance, all set to report on Wednesday.
5. Coming this week:
Tuesday — Lululemon earnings; US consumer confidence
Wednesday — Blackberry, Gamestop and Walgreens Boots Alliance earnings; US fourth-quarter GDP final look
Thursday — Constellation Brands earnings; UK fourth-quarter GDP final look; US personal spending and consumer sentiment
Friday — US markets closed for Good Friday