If Trump wants GM to re-open Lordstown, here’s what he needs to do.

March 19, 2019

https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2019/03/17/president-trump-attacks-gm-uaw-over-plans-close-lordstown-plant/3195729002/

The above-linked article is just one of many stories about Trump’s anger directed toward General Motors over its decision to end production at the Lordstown, OH assembly plant.  He’s wasting his time.  GM isn’t going to operate a plant building cars that aren’t selling.  Why wasn’t the Chevy Cruze selling?  It’s not that it isn’t a really nice small car.  The problem is two-fold:  the market has shifted away from cars to SUVs and, more importantly, the market is absolutely saturated with foreign brands.

I recently heard an automotive industry analyst sum up the situation this way:  “GM has fourteen plants, but only needs twelve to meet demand.”  (I may not be remembering those numbers exactly right.)  More history was in order.  He should have said that “GM once had dozens of plants and is now down to fourteen, thanks to imports, needs to shrink further to twelve and, if nothing is done, will eventually have none.”  That’s a more thorough description of what the domestic auto industry has faced.

Trump needs to stop wasting his time chastising Mary Barra, GM’s CEO, and do the one thing that GM fears the most – impose a 25% tariff on all auto and parts imports.  Soon GM would find itself in need of restarting production at Lordstown and, beyond that, begin building many more assembly and parts plants around the U.S.

Then why does GM fear such a move, one that would likely double its sales volume in the U.S.?  Because China might retaliate by kicking U.S. automakers out of China, depriving them of access to that market.  With 1.2 billion people, four times the population of the U.S., GM and other global corporations think China is a market with the potential to be four times the size of the U.S.  It’s currently nowhere near that big and never will be, thanks to gross over-crowding in China, but GM doesn’t understand that just yet.  So they’re willing to cede a large portion of the U.S. market (and with it, U.S. manufacturing jobs) to foreign competition in order to preserve their access to the Chinese market.

Trump has been threatening to pull the trigger on auto tariffs for some time now.  What’s he waiting for?  The “Make America Great Again” initiative will remain stalled and more auto plants will close as long as he fails to act.

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More Evidence that Tariffs are Working

March 8, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trade-emerson/as-trade-wars-rage-emerson-plots-new-u-s-expansion-idUSKCN1QP0IQ

Here’s more evidence that the tariffs on Chinese imports are working.  As reported in the above-linked article, Emerson Electric now plans to move manufacturing back to the U.S.  It’s a complete reversal from their strategy of only ten years ago.

In 2009, the chief executive of Emerson Electric Co. bluntly told investors at a Chicago conference what many of his counterparts at other manufacturing firms would only say privately.  “I’m not going to hire anybody in the United States. I’m moving,” David Farr said as he blasted U.S. taxes and regulations and called it an easy decision to expand in India and China.

A decade later, Farr has made a stunning reversal: Emerson now plans to build at least three new U.S. plants and is already expanding existing domestic operations. Farr saw a new era of U.S. protectionism coming before Trump’s election – and started planning accordingly, he said in an interview with Reuters at the company’s sprawling headquarters near St. Louis, Missouri.

“For the first time now, I’m looking for best-cost U.S. locations” to build factories, he said.

Trump’s election, Farr said, accelerated a political shift against free trade policy that is now transforming many U.S. firms’ domestic investment strategy. Protectionist policies — especially toward China — are now a rare point on which many Democrats and Trump agree, relegating formerly bold Republican free traders to the sidelines.

The article goes on to provide some details of Emerson’s plans, particularly to spend $425 million on capital projects in the U.S., including $250 million for new manufacturing facilities.

And it’s not just Emerson:

Farr’s new take on U.S. investment reflects a broader questioning of overseas expansions, especially in China, for both political and operational reasons. A survey of top managers at 500 U.S. companies conducted in December by investment bank UBS AG found that 31 percent have moved or are moving production facilities to avoid tariffs. Fifty-eight percent said they expect tariffs to “have a positive impact on domestic investment.”

It’s not just the tariffs.  Farr seems to be disillusioned with manufacturing in China.

Forces beyond politics are pushing manufacturers like Emerson to reconsider investments in China, including rising labor and logistics costs there …

… Emerson’s renewed commitment to U.S. manufacturing is also part of a larger move by global manufacturers to produce more goods in the regions where they are consumed to save on transportation costs.

I believe there are other factors at work here too.  The domestic Chinese economy is flattening out at a far lower level than CEOs expected.  They dreamt of a nation of more than a billion people becoming western-style consumers in the mold of Americans, making China a market four times the size of America.  It hasn’t happened because gross overpopulation in China strangles their per capita consumption.  They built a lot of capacity in China to serve a market that never materialized – capacity that was then dependent on exports to make it profitable.  Along with higher wages and high shipping costs, Trump’s tariffs have eroded their profits even further.  Supplying the American market from China no longer makes sense.

This story, and the one I posted about yesterday – about BMW putting on hold its plans to export EV’s from China – are just tiny examples of the effect that tariffs have in driving manufacturing back to the U.S.  Just imagine the potential as this begins to snowball.  Imagine how many factories would have to be built and how many people would have to be hired to staff them to make all of the products you see on the shelves at the box stores today that are all sourced from China.  There would be an economic explosion in this country the likes of which haven’t been seen since the end of World War II.

The tide is turning against the failed concepts of free trade and globalization.  It’s crumbling right before our eyes.  The very fact that Reuters, a pro free trade and pro globalization publication until now, saw fit to even publish this information is evidence in itself of changing sentiment.

And kudos to Reuters for pointing out that Republicans were even more guilty than Democrats for pushing the free trade globalization agenda to the detriment of the American people, and that Trump has led the charge against it.  Nice to see that some on both sides of the aisle are getting on the bandwagon.

 


Trade Deficit in Manufactured Products Explodes in December

March 6, 2019

http://www.bea.gov/system/files/2019-03/trad1218.pdf

The Commerce Department announced this morning that the U.S. trade deficit grew to $59.8 billion in December, the worst reading in ten years.  But that doesn’t begin to tell the story.  The deficit in manufactured goods exploded in December to $77.3 billion, obliterating the previous record set only two months earlier.  Look at this chart:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.  Exports rose by $6.1 billion to $189.2 billion – a new record – while exports fell $1.8 billion to $111.9 billion – virtually the same reading as in March, 2012.

On an annualized basis, the December deficit in manufactured goods is $927 billion.  It’s entirely possible that the deficit in manufactured goods will exceed one trillion dollars in 2019.  The U.S. economy is headed for a train wreck if something isn’t done.  The federal government can’t sustain the level of deficit spending needed to offset the trade deficit’s drain on the economy.

President Trump has got to get serious about halting the flood of imports that’s wrecking the manufacturing sector of our economy. The token tariffs he’s enacted so far are much too small and too narrowly focused to do anything other than take a small bite out of exporters’ profits.  Trade deals don’t work.  The rest of the world isn’t going to deal away their one trillion dollar surplus.  The negotiations with China are a waste of time.  He needs to raise the tariffs on all Chinese imports to at least 25%.  He needs to put 25% tariffs on all auto, truck and parts imports.

So far Trump’s pledge to “Make America Great Again” has boiled down to nothing more than a tax cut sugar high that has boosted the economy only slightly.  Americans who voted for Trump expected more.


Auto Tariffs? Bring ’em on!

February 21, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-autos/automakers-brace-for-u-s-government-report-on-import-tariffs-idUSKCN1Q503G

A Commerce Department report that likely labels auto imports a national security threat which, under Section 232 of the World Trade Organization, would clear the way for Trump to impose tariffs, is now in Trump’s hands.  It could happen at any time now.  It’s impossible to overstate the consequences of such a move.  Without question, it would be the biggest shake-up in global trade since the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade in 1947.

Let’s begin with some perspective.  In 2018, 17.3 million cars and pickup trucks were sold in the U.S.  Of these, only about half of these vehicles were produced domestically.  The rest are imports.  Through November, the annualized value of imported cars in 2018 was approximately $180 billion.  The annualized value of auto parts was approximately $165 billion.  Together, that’s $345 billion worth of imported cars and trucks.  Roughly half of the cost to produce autos and parts is labor – about $172 billion.  If we assume that the average annual wage paid to auto workers is about $50,000, then that’s a total of about 3.5 million jobs that are lost to imports.

With that background, let’s take a look at the above-linked Reuters article about the possibility of Trump imposing a 25% tariffs on imported autos and parts.

The report’s recommendations may bring the global auto industry a step closer to its worst trade nightmare – U.S. tariffs on millions of imported cars and parts of up to 25 percent that many in the industry fear would add thousands of dollars to the cost of vehicles and potentially cost hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout the U.S. economy.

While it may be a “nightmare” for the “global auto industry,” it would be a dream come true for domestic U.S. manufacturers.  A 25% tariff would indeed drive up the cost of imports by thousands of dollars, and could even increase the cost of domestic autos some, depending on the amount of imported parts used in their manufacture.  The net result?  It’s not hard to imagine.  If you were in the market for a new vehicle that currently costs $30,000, which would you buy?  An import that now costs $37,500 or a domestic that now costs maybe $31,000.  It’s a no-brainer, one that would be repeated millions of times per year by new car buyers.  The result is that domestic auto manufacturing would soon double in volume while imports would slow to a trickle.  It’s as simple as that.

So how can one claim that  “hundreds of thousands of jobs” would be lost throughout the U.S. economy?  It’s easy to make that claim as long as you’re talking only about jobs lost and don’t include job gains elsewhere.  Sure, there’d be lots of jobs lost (and a couple hundred thousand is feasible) in the distribution, sales and servicing of imported autos.  But the loss of those jobs would be offset ten-fold or more by gains in the manufacturing, distribution, sales and servicing of domestic autos, not to mention the jobs involved in building the required manufacturing facilities, including buildings and machinery.

And what about this?

Senator Rob Portman, an Ohio Republican, recently introduced legislation that would shift responsibility for Section 232 investigations from Commerce to the U.S. Defense Department. The law containing the provision was passed in 1962 to keep U.S. industries healthy to meet Cold War defense needs.

“There is no way that minivans from Canada are a national security threat,” Portman told reporters.

Portman is wrong on two levels.  First of all, every imported car and truck weakens our manufacturing sector.  That could be critical in a time of war.  Just as important as our victories in the battlefield that ultimately forced the surrender of Germany and Japan in World War II was America’s industrial might that supplied them with weapons and materials.  No other nation on earth could even come close to matching America’s industrial power.  By the end of World War II, America’s shipyards were building complete destroyers, from the keel up, in two days, and Ford’s Willow Run factory in Michigan cranked out B-24 bombers at the rate of one per hour around the clock, or 650 bombers per month.  That didn’t happen by magic.  It took a veritable army of men and women experienced in manufacturing.

Existential wars – wars fought for survival against an enemy bent on conquering you – like our war against the Axis powers in World War II, are wars of attrition.  Who wins and who loses is often determined by who runs out of something first.  It doesn’t have to be ammunition or tanks or ships.  It can be something as simple as boots.  Every nut and bolt counts.  The lack of even one component can grind a war machine to a halt.  Supply chains that depend on overseas suppliers can be quickly and easily disrupted.  In other words, it’s critical to our survival that we maintain a robust manufacturing base, one that can be quickly converted to a wartime footing to supply everything imaginable that we might need.  Anything that degrades that capability is a national security threat.

Secondly, our national debt – now over $22 trillion – has grown to the point at which it threatens the viability of our economy.  Our national debt is directly tied to our trade deficit.  Every dollar drained from our economy by purchases of imports must somehow be put back to work in the economy, and the only mechanism available to do that is through federal deficit spending, financed by the sale of debt to those countries awash in our trade dollars.  Our debt is now growing by nearly a trillion dollars per year, and the $345 billion trade deficit in autos and parts is a major contributor.  The trade deficit is, without question, a national security threat and every imported minivan that Senator Portman references is part of the problem.

Tariffs are the only mechanism at our disposal for restoring a balance of trade – something we haven’t had since 1975 – and applying tariffs on the import of autos and parts is critical if we are to have any hope of achieving that balance.  Tariffs can’t simply be used as leverage to force other nations into trade concessions because they’ll never willingly give up their trade surpluses, regardless of their promises, as we’ve seen time and again for many decades.  We need tariffs now and they need to be permanent.

 


No Progress on Cutting Trade Deficit

February 15, 2019

Last week, the Commerce Department released the trade data for the month of November.  It was expected that the data for November would be the first to show that the tariffs enacted by Trump are beginning to “bite,” after the data for the previous two months was supposedly skewed by importers loading up in advance of the tariffs.

Didn’t happen.  Although the trade deficit was down slightly, the drop was insignificant.  At $49.3 billion, the overall deficit tracked right in line with previous months.  More importantly, the deficit in the all-important category of manufactured products (where jobs are concentrated) dropped by $4.8 billion to $72.5 billion.  Nice that it dropped, but it’s still the fifth worst deficit ever recorded.  Here’s the chart:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.  The deficit with China fell by only $2.8 billion to $35.4 billion – the fourth worst deficit ever recorded with China.

So far, all of the alarm raised by globalists about harm being done to the global economy has proven to be nothing more than fear-mongering.  The impact of the tariffs – 10% on half of Chinese imports and 10% on steel and aluminum – has been zilch, other than to slightly erode the profit margins of those exporting companies and adding a couple billion dollars per month to federal revenue.  And the whining by American farmers that China has stopped buying?  Exports of “foods, feeds and beverages” is running $9.0 billion ahead of the same time in 2017, led by a 20% increase in soybean exports.

In the meantime, though the economy has been booming since the enactment of the tax cut last year, the effect is beginning to fade, as does the effect of every stimulus plan enacted for decades.  Retail sales fell last month, as did industrial production, led downward by manufacturing, especially by auto production.  It’s no surprise.  Without significant measures aimed at restoring a balance of trade, the economy will be eroded as the trade deficit worsens, regardless of any economic stimuli.

The problem is that, although the tariffs implemented by Trump so far go far beyond what any president in modern times has been willing to do, it hasn’t been enough.  The tariffs are too small and too narrowly focused.  They need to include all imports from China and need to rise to 25%.  And we need the 25% tariff on autos that Trump has long threatened.

The current trade talks with China are a complete waste of time.  When the U.S. agreed to hold off on further tariffs in exchange for such talks, China had already won.  Any deal with China, no matter the terms, is a win for China because it puts them back in the driver’s seat.  All they have to do is make promises – the same thing they’ve always done.  When they fail to meet them, what will the U.S. do?  Engage them in more talks.  Trade deals in general are utterly pointless, since tariffs are the only thing that can influence other nations’ trading behavior in our favor.  It’s extremely disappointing that Trump doesn’t seem to fully grasp this.


MAGA: Is Trump Becoming a Liability?

January 28, 2019

In the wake of the government shutdown fiasco, you have to begin to wonder whether Trump is becoming a liability to the “Make America Great Again” movement.

It isn’t so much the fact that he reopened the government.  It’s the way he did it.  He caved in.  He totally capitulated to Democrats’ insistence on maintaining an open border, getting absolutely nothing in return.  What should he have done?  First of all, he should have followed through with his threat of declaring a national emergency.  Secondly, he should have withdrawn America from NAFTA and immediately put in place tariffs on all manufactured goods from Mexico, effectively making Mexico pay for the wall like he promised.   Finally, he should have immediately begun deporting the “deferred action” illegal aliens that he offered to protect.

The “deal” to reopen the government for three weeks, supposedly for the purpose of giving Trump and congress time to negotiate a deal on border security, is a farce.  Trump has given up all leverage that he had on the border wall issue and Democrats have made it crystal clear that they’ll never support a dime for securing the border in the only way that it can be secured – by building a barrier.  Either there’ll be an impasse again, or Trump will cave in a 2nd time and try to sell something less than a barrier – maybe more funding for border patrol agents and technology – as a win.

The problem goes far beyond the border wall issue to the half-hearted, inconsistent implementation of virtually every element of his “Make America Great Again” (or “MAGA”) program, a program consisting of three key elements:  a re-balancing of trade to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.; putting an end to rampant, out-of-control immigration – both legal and illegal; and putting an end to the rest of the world behaving like a spoiled, entitled teenager treating the U.S. like a doting parent, providing everything it asks for and getting nothing but scorn in return.

We were promised a wall to virtually put an end to illegal immigration across our southern border, to be paid for by Mexico.  We were promised a prompt withdrawal from NAFTA, and tariffs on products from Mexico, which would have made fulfilling the border wall promise a snap.  We were promised tariffs on Chinese imports and on auto imports.

Soon after the inauguration, Trump invited Red China’s communist dictator to dinner at Mar A Lago and was quickly seduced into holding off on tariffs on China.  Then he caved in to pressure not to withdraw from NAFTA and instead got sucked into a ridiculously drawn out negotiation of a new agreement with Mexico and Canada that may or may not be any improvement at all, and that Congress seems in no hurry to take up.  Goodbye to any chance of getting Mexico to pay for the wall.  He did implement a small ten percent tariff on half of Chinese imports after it became clear that Chairman Xi’s promises were nothing more than a ploy, but caved in on further implementation once the global corporations began their pissing and moaning.  Now we’re sucked into the same kind of trade negotiations that the rest of the world has used for decades to stall America’s efforts to stand up for itself.

Then there’s North Korea.  Give Trump credit for using the toughest sanctions ever to forced them to agree to denuclearization, but Kim’s promises have proven hollow and North Korea seems to be off the hook once again.

I don’t blame Trump alone for all of this.  Everyone around him has been against him from the start – the Democrats who despise him and would never agree to anything he wanted, the media, global corporations, global organizations, his own staff and even members of his own family (globalists like Kushner and Ivanka) who have stonewalled his programs.

All of the backlash from the MAGA initiatives was to be expected.  I predicted as much in Five Short Blasts – a period of inflation caused by significant tariff-induced price increases, but eventually followed by explosive economic growth as manufacturing in America returned.  Trump needed to go all in with his program quickly, enduring withering criticism for a couple of years or so before having the last laugh when GDP began to explode as factories were rebuilt and as the manufacturing sector of the economy exploded.  It would have taken a lot of guts to be almost universally despised in the short term in order to have history remember him as an American hero in the long term.

However, I see a real danger in what’s happening here.  Trump’s incomplete implementation of these policies will yield only the pain without achieving the benefits that would eventually come, and will be deemed complete failures.  They’ll be forever labeled as “Trumpian” policies that no one will ever dare to attempt again.  America will be forever doomed to massive trade deficits and budget deficits, and will eventually collapse under the weight of gross overpopulation and a national debt that the rest of the world can no longer sustain.

It’s not too late for Trump, but it’s getting pretty darn close.  He needs to immediately begin ignoring all of globalist noise and whining and go all in with what he knows needs to be done.  Declare an emergency.  Build the wall.  Withdraw from NAFTA and slap tariffs on Mexico, and tell congress that if they don’t like it, then they can pass the new agreement he negotiated.  Slap tariffs on all Chinese exports and raise them to 25% or higher.  Slap 25% tariffs on all auto imports.  Tell the rest of the world that we’re willing to buy from them only as much as they buy from us.  Sure, the globalist outcry will be almost unbearable, but so what?  Continue down the path you’re on and history will remember you as a complete failure.  So what is there to lose?


An Example of Why Tariffs Can’t be Piecemeal

January 17, 2019

https://www.fidelity.com/news/article/top-news/201901170104RTRSNEWSCOMBINED_KCN1PB0CB-OUSBS_1

The above-linked article is a good example of why tariffs can’t be applied piecemeal to only specific products.  A Michigan auto parts supplier is shifting the manufacturing of some components from Michigan to Israel to skirt the tariffs on steel.  Israel gets steel tariff-free and the parts they manufacture no longer count as “steel,” so they can export them to the U.S. free of tariffs.

I give Trump a lot of credit for implementing tariffs and hope he goes much further but, in order to avoid situations such as the one reported on in this article, tariffs must be targeted at nations – densely populated nations – not products, and must cover every product from such nations – not just specific products.

If Trump had applied the tariff structure I recommended in Five Short Blasts, a structure indexed to population density, the RoMan manufacturing company would never dream of outsourcing components to Israel, since all imports from Israel would be subject to a 40% tariff.  It’s worth noting here that, in 2017, our third worst trade deficit in per capita terms was with Israel, one of the most badly over-populated nations on earth – three times as densely populated as China.  In per capita terms, our trade deficit with Israel is four times worse than our deficit with China.

The Trump administration sees tariffs as a tool to force concessions from nations that continue to maintain trade barriers (like tariffs) against American products.  It believes that if it can get Europe, for example, to drop its 10% tariff on American cars, then American manufacturers will begin exporting a lot more cars to Europe.  But they won’t, at least not nearly in the quantity needed to offset the number of cars imported from Europe.  The problem isn’t the tariff, it’s the inability of Europeans to consume even their own domestic capacity because their dense population (nearly equal to China’s population density) makes car ownership impractical.

Tariffs aren’t negotiating tactics.  They’re absolutely imperative to maintain a balance of trade with densely populated nations.