Stephen Moore: The Chinese Economy could Face a Free Fall if the Trade War doesn’t End

I would rather have the trade war go on, then see Trump retreat in any way. That is Steve Moore, the Chief Economist of the Heritage Foundation. In the wake of the Fed’s lowering interest rate, Trump’s new tariffs on China, RMB falling to a historic low and the U.S. designation of China as a currency manipulator, we need to make sense of the whole sequence of events. How are they interrelated and why did they happen? What’s next for the U.S. – China trade war, how is it going to affect the 2020 election, your investment portfolio, your job security and more. I am Simone Gao and you are watching Zooming In.

Here Comes the Trump Slump

And he has only himself to blame.

 When he isn’t raving about how the deep state is conspiring against him, Donald Trump loves to boast about the economy, claiming to have achieved unprecedented things. As it happens, none of his claims are true. While both G.D.P. and employment have registered solid growth, the Trump economy simply seems to have continued a long expansion that began under Barack Obama. In fact, someone who looked only at the past 10 years of data would never guess that an election had taken place.

But now it’s starting to look as if Trump really will achieve something unique: He may well be the first president of modern times to preside over a slump that can be directly attributed to his own policies, rather than bad luck.

There has always been a deep unfairness about the relationship between economics and politics: Presidents get both credit and blame for events that usually have little to do with their actions.

  • Jimmy Carter didn’t cause the stagflation that put Ronald Reagan in the White House;
  • George H.W. Bush didn’t cause the economic weakness that elected Bill Clinton; even
  • George W. Bush bears at most tangential responsibility for the 2008 financial crisis.

More recently, themini-recession” of 2015-16, a slump in manufacturing that may have tipped the scale to Trump, was caused mainly by a plunge in energy prices rather than any of Barack Obama’s policies.

But unlike previous presidents, who were just unlucky to preside over slumps, Trump has done this to himself, largely by choosing to wage a trade war he insisted would be “good, and easy to win.”

The link between the trade war and agriculture’s woes is obvious: America’s farmers are deeply dependent on export markets, China in particular. So they’re hurting badly, despite a huge financial bailout that is already more than twice as big as the Obama administration’s auto bailout. (Part of the problem may be that the bailout money is flowing disproportionately to the biggest, richest farms.)

Shipping may also seem an obvious victim when tariffs reduce international trade, although it’s not just an international issue; domestic trucking is also in recession.

The manufacturing slump is more surprising. After all, America runs a large trade deficit in manufactured goods, so you might expect that tariffs, by forcing buyers to turn to domestic suppliers, would be good for the sector. That’s surely what Trump and his advisers thought would happen.

But that’s not how it has worked out. Instead, the trade war has clearly hurt U.S. manufacturing. Indeed, it has done considerably more damage than even Trump critics like yours truly expected.

The Trumpist trade warriors, it turns out, missed two key points. First, many U.S. manufacturers depend heavily on imported parts and other inputs; the trade war is disrupting their supply chains. Second, Trump’s trade policy isn’t just protectionist, it’s erratic, creating vast uncertainty for businesses both here and abroad. And businesses are responding to that uncertainty by putting plans for investment and job creation on hold.

So the tweeter in chief has bungled his way into a Trump slump, even if it isn’t a full-blown recession, at least so far. It’s clearly going to hurt him politically, notably because of the contrast between his big talk and not-so-great reality. Also, the pain in manufacturing seems to be falling especially hard on those swing states Trump took by tiny margins in 2016, giving him the Electoral College despite losing the popular vote.

And while many presidents have found themselves confronting politically damaging economic adversity, Trump is, as I said, unique in that he really did this to himself.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that he will accept responsibility for his mistakes. For the past few months he has been trying to portray the Federal Reserve as the root of all economic evil, even though current interest rates are well below those his own officials predicted in their triumphalist economic projections.

My guess, however, is that Fed-bashing will prove ineffective as a political strategy, not least because most Americans probably have at best a vague idea of what the Fed is and what it does.

So what will come next? Trump being Trump, it’s a good bet that he’ll soon be denouncing troubling economic data as fake news; I wouldn’t be surprised to see political pressure on the statistical agencies to report better numbers. Hey, if it can happen to the National Weather Service, why not the Bureau of Economic Analysis (which reports, by the way, to Wilbur Ross)?

And somehow or other this will turn out to be another deep-state conspiracy, probably orchestrated by George Soros.

The scary thing is that around 35 percent of Americans will probably believe whatever excuses Trump comes up with. But that won’t be enough to save him.

Trump has badly misread China’s hand

Donald Trump has been dialing up the tariffs and the rhetoric around the ongoing trade spat with China. Yet Xi Jingping has held a firm line and has been unwilling to fold to increasing pressure from the US. Donald Amstad from Aberdeen Standard Investments believes that Trump may have misread how strong China’s hand is by overlooking some key inputs to the trade relationship between the two countries.

While most of the focus has been on traded goods Amstad says to get the full picture you also need to take into consideration the value of services and the profits earned by US companies operating in China. As he outlines in this short video Trump may have badly misread China’s hand.

“In China there is no political cycle. President Trump has got 15 months to sort this out before he faces re-election. So, time is very much on China’s side.”