As Trade Wars Rise, Markets Won’t Fall

Print Email

The threat of trade wars between the United States and other large nations, particularly China, has been a concern for months. Now, the Trump administration says it may add a new set of tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese goods, a tremendous escalation. The markets barely moved on the news.

Investors seem to think that the trade wars will end before they start, the effects on the U.S. economy will be muted, strong earnings will show American companies can still help power the economy, or that the overall economy is so strong that increased prices from tariffs or the drop in sales of some U.S. goods won’t substantially alter its course.

Over the past three months, the Dow Jones industrial average is up about 700 points. There is no easy way to sort the 30 companies in the index by the amount of business each does with China. And there is no clear pattern even of those who do have some amount of China exposure.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) management has said over and over how vital sales in China are to its numbers. Some components of Apple products are made in China. Apple’s shares are higher by 12% this year. Boeing Co. (NYSE: BA) management has stated that China will become the most critical market in the world for sales. Based on new plane sales, it may be already. Boeing shares are up 17% this year. Procter & Gamble Co.’s (NYSE: PG) shares are down 13% this year. It has some amount of exposure in China, but no one has made a strong case that trouble with tariffs will hamper its global business enough for shareholders to panic.

Investors in U.S. markets may be focused on calendar second-quarter earnings, most of which will come out over the next several weeks. Assuming most investors are right, a trade war may not undermine the market much. If companies warn that China problems will threaten second-half results, it will be another matter. Additionally, the markets have been transfixed by the rise of American employment, with the economy adding 200,000 jobs month after month. Wage growth may be modest, but nearly everyone who wants a job has one.

Tariffs are here, but so far they have affected almost no American consumers or the bottom lines of many companies. The markets appear ready to wait to see if either will happen.