Nov 27, 2018, by Samuel Potter
What can be said about the trade war that hasn’t already been said? Not much, if we’re honest, but that doesn’t stop people saying it. As the markets count down to a possibly pivotal, possibly inconclusive meeting between President Donald Trump and his counterpart Xi Jinping at the G-20 summit from Friday, the U.S. leader reminded us in a Wall Street Journal interview he’s not for turning. “The only deal would be China has to open up their country to competition from the United States,” he said. Meanwhile, the fallout from the new era of protectionism continues. General Motors Co.’s woes aren’t a result of tariffs but the trade war certainly isn’t helping — rising raw-material costs are expected to make a $1 billion dent in profit this year at the automaker, which is shuttering plants in a bid to cope. Trump weighed in of course, telling GM to “get back” into Ohio soon.
Shiny bauble at risk
Pity Apple. The tech giant is having a miserable time of it, and Trump’s tariff zeal now threatens to add to its problems. The president has suggested that 10 percent duties could be placed on mobile phones, like the iPhone, and laptops made in China. The timing was unfortunate: Also on Monday, Apple briefly ceded the title of world’s most valuable publicly traded company to its great rival Microsoft. The status is kind of meaningless, but it looks very nice and losing it serves to underscore CEO Tim Cook’s challenge as he battles slowing sales. Elsewhere in tech, United Technologies Corp. will break itself up, capping months of pressure from activist investors wanting the conglomerate to separate aerospace operations from its elevators and climate-controls divisions.
President Trump’s interventions are a bit of a running theme this morning, as ever. As well as weighing in on trade, he couldn’t resist opining on one of the other macro threats to markets: Brexit. Well, opining doesn’t quite cover it — he lobbed a rhetorical hand grenade into already fraught proceedings, saying U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal would mean Britain would be unable to strike a trade deal with the U.S. It’s a bitter blow to May, who is fighting an uphill battle to pass her accord — which just about everyone seems to hate — through Parliament. The vote for that has been set for Dec. 11, and as well as appealing to business for support, she is reportedly seeking a televised debate with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn in the days before the decision.
Overnight, the MSCI Asia-Pacific Index of stocks advanced, though gains were tempered by trade worries and shares in Shanghai ended flat. Japan’s Topix Index jumped while the yen drifted. In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index declined 0.4 percent as of 6:06 a.m. Eastern time while futures for the S&P 500 Index pointed to a drop at the New York open. Treasuries were flat as the dollar edged up, while gold also rose and West Texas crude swung between gains and losses.
Clearly the Federal Reserve thinks there’s not enough debate about the path of rate hikes. That might explain why there’s no fewer than four Fed speakers to digest today. First up at 8:30 a.m. is Vice Chairman Richard Clarida, who has said hiking to neutral would make sense and that policymakers must be vigilant to signs of a global economic slowdown. Regional presidents Esther George, Raphael Bostic and Charles Evans — who run the gamut from dovish to hawkish — are also on a panel later in the day. Investors will be looking for clues on whether the central bank is fretting this month’s tightening in financial conditions, as cracks in credit markets get exposed.