Trade war: As China slows, will U.S. markets suffer?
“China’s economy can’t avoid the headwinds” of slowing growth and a mounting trade war with the U.S., said Chao Deng in The Wall Street Journal. Right now, Chinese exports look healthy because American firms have been placing orders months in advance to avoid increasingly expensive U.S. tariffs. President Trump has so far placed duties of 10 percent on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, a levy that will rise to 25 percent in the new year, and is threatening tariffs on $257 billion more. “Many Chinese firms that rely on the U.S. market are worried about difficult days ahead.” Analysts say it’s only a matter of time before advance orders fizzle and clients start canceling purchases; one Chinese maker of wine refrigerators thinks his revenues could fall 40 percent this year. For Chinese President Xi Jinping, there’s a big upside to this trade pain, said Bloomberg.com. Market observers and even the ruling Communist Party have long predicted that China’s breakneck rate of growth would dip at some point. When that inevitable slowdown arrives, Xi will be able to point at Trump and “blame ‘external forces’ for internal problems.”
Still, fears of a coming slump have sent Chinese officials “into overdrive,” said Sidney Leng in the South China Morning Post (China). A team led by Liu He, Xi’s top economic aide, and tasked with maintaining financial stability met last week for the 10th time since July. With China’s economic growth sliding to 6.5 percent in the third quarter, “its slowest rate since the global financial crisis,” that’s not an easy task. “The anxiety among China’s top leadership is 100 percent,” says Xu Jianwei, senior China economist at the French bank Natixis. The slowdown is partly a result of sensible actions by the Chinese government, said Lucas Laursen in Fortune.com. Beijing has grown more careful about approving local-government spending and has cracked down on risky private-sector loans. But the trade war has “taken a bite out of Chinese businesses in multiple sectors,” and made investors wary of more dangers ahead. The government is now trying to calm China’s stock markets, which are down about 30 percent since January.
The Trump administration insists this “blistering sell-off” won’t spill over into America, said Lesley Wroughton in Reuters.com. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin argued this week that he wasn’t concerned about China’s problems “destabilizing our markets.” That could change quickly. To date, U.S. stock market investors have been “insulated from China’s losses,” said Patti Domm in CNBC.com. The S&P 500 index is still up for the year, despite a series of recent drops, while the Shanghai Composite Index is down 25 percent. Just don’t count on U.S. markets weathering the storm forever. Over the past 10 years, when Shanghai stocks fell 10 percent or more in 30 days, the S&P dropped, too, by an average of 4.8 percent. “When China’s stock market falls sharply, there’s a good chance U.S. stocks go with it.” ■