Trade War Escalates As White House Implements More Tariffs; China Retaliates

Trade talks with China break down; protectionist policies accelerating. Following over a year of discussion with China, trade talks broke down, prompting the White House to raise tariffs to 25 percent on $200 billion of Chinese imports. The recent escalation represents the latest developments in trade talks that have been ongoing for over a year. Notable tariffs are currently in place covering steel and aluminum, as well as washing machines and solar panels. However, the latest round of tariffs includes furniture, clothing, construction materials and electronics such as TV’s and smartphones. China immediately retaliated with new tariffs on agricultural products such as soybeans and cotton and industrial equipment, machinery and airplane parts. As our largest trading partner, total economic activity between the United States and China exceeds $650 billion, potentially creating a significant disruption to the U.S. economy if the trade war drags on.

Higher Tariffs Likely To Shift Consumer Spending Patterns
Prices of consumer goods to rise, shift retail sales. While businesses largely absorbed earlier rounds of tariffs, it’s unlikely the latest escalation will be offset to such a high degree. Given the breadth and scope of the list of tariffed goods, the direct costs borne by consumers will undoubtedly rise. As a result, escalating prices will realign consumer spending toward necessity purchases. This could have a potentially large effect on discretionary purchases, particularly large items such as televisions, electronics and furniture, where the size of the new tariffs would be most notable. Should the rate or scope of tariffs rise in the coming months, the impact on retail sales could be even more considerable, especially for bars and restaurants, which are highly correlated with discretionary spending. If a resolution isn’t reached in the short-term, longer term impacts could include flattening demand for retail space as consumer spending slows, coupled with slower job growth in retail and other consumer-facing enterprises.

Escalating Tariff Pressure Creating Corporate Uncertainty
Retailers, business community grapple with fallout of latest tariff increases. Due to the rapidly evolving state of the trade war with China, business leaders have struggled with how to react to increasing tariffs. Several years of globalization has integrated many of the largest companies’ supply chains with Chinese manufacturing facilities, making a quick unwind extremely unlikely. As a result, the wide scope of the latest round of tariffs will undoubtedly be passed on to consumers, with many retailers and business community members warning of the potential impact. Lower corporate profitability will filter through into business investment and hiring, slowing economic growth. Tariff-related cost pressure could eventually influence firms to unwind supply chains linked to China in an effort to lower input costs if the tariff war continues to show no signs of slowing down. Moving forward, the uncertainty will have the most significant impact, weighing on sentiment and confidence.