Wall Street takes some knocks but still standing as Trump tariffs loom

Wall Street takes some knocks but still standing as Trump tariffs loom

SAN FRANCISCO,. Fears of a global trade war have left Wall Street bruised but not beaten as the Trump administration yesterday moved closer to enacting tariffs on US$34 billion (RM137.4 billion) worth of Chinese imports and Beijing threatens to respond immediately.

While China accused the United States of “opening fire” on the world, with the tariffs set to take effect today, US stock indexes rose, even with no evidence of last-minute negotiations between US and Chinese officials.

Disputes between the United States and its trading partners have roiled financial markets ranging from stocks to currencies to commodities for months. Stocks have been volatile, the dollar has gained and the yield curve for US Treasuries has flattened.

Since March 1, when President Donald Trump said he would impose steep tariffs on steel and aluminum, igniting fears of a trade war, S&P 500 industrials have fallen 4 per cent, reflecting the sector’s dependence on international commerce.

The S&P 1500 steel index has lost nearly 8 per cent since March 1, as investors worry that a slowdown in global demand could offset US steelmakers’ benefits from tariffs against their foreign competitors.

But although the S&P 500 on some days has been hit hard by signs of an escalating trade conflict, the index is up 2 per cent so far in 2018, helped by deep corporate tax cuts that have boosted companies’ earnings and led to massive share buybacks.

Reflecting expectations that small US companies are less at risk than multinationals from tariffs, the Russell 2000 index has outperformed the S&P 500, Dow and Nasdaq since early March.

Tariffs on US$34 billion worth of Chinese goods, the first of a potential total of US$450 billion, are due to kick in on Friday over US complaints that China is misappropriating US technology.

Imports of semiconductor-dense products like televisions and smartphones so far have been spared by Trump, but they could be hit if the trade dispute grows.

Car makers, which face higher steel costs due to the tariffs, have been whipsawed. The Trump administration has launched a national security investigation into automobile imports that could lead to additional tariffs.

The dollar and US treasuries have also been sensitive. The US dollar index, which measures the greenback against a basket of currencies, has risen more than 4 per cent since March 1. Analysts have said that they expect the dollar to outperform against other currencies in a trade war.

“A rise in trade protectionism would increase global risk aversion and disproportionately affect non-USD countries due to their relative economic openness,” analysts at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said in a recent note.

The yuan dropped more than 3 per cent against the dollar in June, more than in any other month since 1994, when China unified the market exchange rate.

Worries about a global trade conflict have pushed long-term Treasury yields lower as investors fret about a slowdown in global economic growth. Meanwhile, short-term rates have risen due to expectations of more interest rate hikes by the Federal Reserve.

— Reuters