EU threat on auto tariffs

July 31, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-eu/eu-redoubles-threat-to-retaliate-if-us-raises-auto-tariffs-idUSKCN1UH1N5

The above-linked report was published a few days ago, but I can’t let it pass without comment.  It’s reported that the EU is threatening to retaliate with tariffs of its own if Trump were to push ahead with tariffs on EU auto imports.

“We will not negotiate under WTO illegal action. Nor will we go down the road of managed trade,” she (Sabine Weyend, the EU’s director general of trade) said.

If Washington pushed ahead with its threat to raise auto tariffs to 25%, Brussels would respond with tariffs of its own, resulting in a “lose-lose” situation for all involved, she said.

This is exactly the same approach taken by China, and the EU should consider how well that’s working out for them.  And the EU is in a far weaker position than China.  Unlike China, who supplies electronics and other consumer products for which new supply chains will have to be re-established in the U.S., the EU competes with the U.S. in products that are still manufactured here, like autos and parts.  A full one third of our trade deficit with the EU – approximately $43 billion – is in autos.  If tariffs make such EU imports more expensive, American consumers can instantly and painlessly switch to American brands.  The same is true for pharmaceuticals, chemicals, plastics and virtually everything else imported from the EU.  We don’t need their imports – we have it all right here.

The notion that a tit-for-tat tariff battle with the EU would be a “lose-lose” situation is laughable.  When you’re already losing, as the U.S. is with a $150 billion/year trade deficit with the EU, the only possible outcome for the U.S. – even if a balance of trade with the EU were reached through a total cessation of trade with them – would be a $150 billion boost to the U.S. economy, a huge win by any measure.

If the EU wants to avoid the loss it’d suffer, it’d be better for them to boost their domestic consumption instead of relying on manufacturing for export – the same remedy that experts have recommended for China.  Of course, with a population density nearly the same as China, they face the same problem:  per capita consumption that’s depressed by over-crowding.

Trump is continuing his “slow turkey” approach to restoring a balance of trade through the use of tariffs.  It won’t be long before he levies the long-promised 25% tariffs on the remaining half of Chinese imports.  I suspect that the EU will then be his next target.

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“Slow-Turkey” Trade Policy

July 8, 2019

Like the animated “slow turkey” we’ve all seen on the TV ads for a quit-smoking medication, Trump’s trade policy is also taking the “slow turkey” approach.

As announced by the Commerce Department on Wednesday, the trade deficit jumped back up in May to $55.2 billion from $51.2 billion in April, but this was still below the peak of $60.8 billion in December.  (Here’s the full release from the Commerce Department:  https://www.bea.gov/system/files/2019-07/trad0519.pdf.)

More importantly, the deficit in manufactured goods also rebounded in May to $71.1 billion, up from $67.9 billion in April.  It too, however, was below the all-time record of $76.5 billion set in December.  Here’s a chart of the deficit in manufactured goods:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.

Based upon these figures, it’s difficult to see that Trump’s policy of using tariffs to bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. is having any effect.  Look more closely, though, and you’ll find that things are starting to happen.  The deficit with China rose again in May, but to “only” $30.2 billion, from $26.9 billion in April and $20.7 billion in March.  But this rise follows a seasonal pattern.  The fact is that the deficit with China has been down from the same month in 2018 every single month so far this year.  The year-to-date deficit with China is $137.1 billion through May, compared to $152.2 billion for the same period in 2018.  And let’s not forget that the U.S. is now collecting a lot of revenue from half of Chinese imports – approximately $5 billion in May – an annualized rate of $60 billion.  If and when Trump imposes a 25% tariff on the other half of Chinese imports, that revenue figure will double to $120 billion per year and will further cut our deficit with China.

Yes, China is retaliating with tariffs of their own, and exports to China have dropped slightly, but imports from China have fallen much more – the net result being a lower trade deficit, which is a boost to the U.S. economy.  What about the stories about how bad America’s farmers are being hurt by this trade war?  Baloney.  Look at page 19 of the report.  Exports of “foods, feeds, and beverages” year-to-date is running almost dead even with last year.  Exports of soybeans, which get so much attention, are running 7% ahead of last year.  And overall exports are up by $2 billion from last year.

Recently, Trump announced in the wake of his G20 meeting with Red China’s dictator Xi that he is holding off the implementation of the 25% tariff on the remainder of Chinese imports that he has threatened, pending a new round of trade negotiations with China.  We can see a pattern emerging in Trump’s style of trade policy.  He’s all warm and fuzzy when meeting with global leaders like Xi, then takes the tough action when the lower-level negotiations don’t measure up.  Maybe it’s a smart approach, effectively inoculating the business world against the Chicken Little, “the sky is falling” dire warnings of trade war consequences.  The unfounded fears dissipate when the trade war is rolled out slowly and nothing bad happens.  The free trade fear mongers are losing credibility.  Each new round of tariffs gets more of a ho-hum response.

Who’s been the biggest beneficiary of the tariffs on China so far?  Mexico.  While the trade deficit with others like Germany and Japan is either stagnant or declining (South Korea), the deficit with Mexico is growing rapidly as manufacturers who have been leaving China in droves (a few examples of which are reported here:  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-china-strategy-tech/hp-dell-other-tech-firms-plan-to-shift-production-out-of-china-nikkei-idUSKCN1TY14G) look for their next best (low cost) solution.  Some manufacturing is coming back to the U.S., but a lot is going to Mexico.

Under current NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) rules, that may look like a smart move.  But that landscape is changing too – in “slow turkey” fashion.  A new agreement has been negotiated and is pending approval by Congress, and Trump has repeatedly threatened tariffs on Mexico imports, most recently in his effort to force Mexico to take a tougher stand against Central American immigrants.  Those companies moving to Mexico now may be throwing good money after bad and regret not facing the inevitable – that America’s tolerance of perpetual, huge trade imbalances has reached the end of the line.

This “slow turkey” approach to trade policy is frustrating for a “cold turkey” like me.  The “cold turkey” approach would already be yielding bigger benefits for American workers.  But I’ll concede that a “slow turkey” approach may be more sustainable in an environment where free trade globalists still command the attention of the media and are influential in what happens in global stock markets.  The benefits for workers may not be sustainable if investors are taking it on the chin.

It looks like the “slow turkey” approach is just beginning to show positive results.  The American economy, including the manufacturing sector, is doing well while others are faltering.  If this approach de-fangs the critics as their trade war hysteria falls flat, and the political climate becomes favorable for an 8-year “slow turkey” transformation of trade policy instead of a 4-year “cold turkey” that ultimately yields nothing more than a lame duck dead turkey, then I’m all for it.

 


Trade Deficit “Unexpectedly”(?) Narrows

June 8, 2019

https://www.fidelity.com/news/article/top-news/201906061158RTRSNEWSCOMBINED_KCN1T71LA-OUSBS_1

As reported in the above-linked Reuters article, America’s trade deficit fell slightly to $50.8 billion in April.  More importantly, the deficit in manufactured goods fell to $68 billion, it’s lowest level since June of last year.  The decline was due to a drop of $5.9 billion in imports, partially offset by a $5.2 billion drop in exports.

The reporting in the article seems to be intentionally misleading to promote a pro-free trade, pro-globalism agenda.  First of all, the article reports that the deficit “unexpectedly narrowed.”  Why “unexpectedly?”  I, and anyone who understands how tariffs work to restore a balance of trade, have been expecting it for months.

Then there’s this:

“U.S. trade with the world is slowing dramatically and the odds are rising that the economy is going to take a big hit,” said Chris Rupkey, chief economist at MUFG in New York.

“Globalization and expanded trade between nations benefited everyone and now the reductions in trade volumes between nations are going to subtract those benefits worldwide from everyone.”

The facts are that the economy is actually doing very well, especially in the U.S.  Globalization didn’t benefit everyone.  America’s manufacturing sector was devastated, turning a nation that was an industrial powerhouse into a skid row bum, economically speaking.

And this:

The politically sensitive goods trade deficit with China surged 29.7% to $26.9 billion. The gap with Mexico fell 14.1% to $8.2 billion in April.

Well, yeah, the deficit with China rose in April from March, but March was the lowest deficit with China in five years.  The Reuters article failed to mention that the 3-month trailing average deficit with China, which factors out month-to-month volatility, fell to its lowest level since April of 2014.  The data about Mexico is also misleading.  While the gap fell with Mexico in April from March, the 3-month trailing average rose to its highest level ever as manufacturers flee China for Mexico to avoid tariffs and to reduce their high shipping costs.

The tariffs on China are working, a fact more accurately covered in this article:  https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-mexico-manufacturers/under-tariff-threat-mexico-less-attractive-to-companies-avoiding-china-trade-war-idUSKCN1T82HB.

Take the recent experience of outsourcing firm Tecma Group, which saw a surge in interest from companies mulling a move to Mexico as Trump raised tariffs to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods.

Tecma, which manages some 75 factories in Mexico, had been approached “every week” by companies selling items from furniture to ink pens seeking a pathway out of China and into Mexico, according to Alan Russell, its chief executive and chairman.

…  data showing Mexico emerging as the top U.S. trading partner as China exports less to the United States, combined with anecdotal evidence, suggest a significant trend.

… “Whatever we are doing in Mexico is for our company’s long-term strategic growth … If we produce in Mexico we’ll a save a lot on freight and it will reduce the time for delivery. It’s a huge advantage,” said (Fuling Global Inc.) CFO Gilbert Lee.

… Similarly, camera maker GoPro Inc decided in early May to move most of its U.S.-bound production to Mexico from China to “insulate us against possible tariffs,” Chief Financial Officer Brian McGee told investors at the time.

… In fact, Mexico overtook both China and Canada in the first quarter of 2019 to become the U.S.’s top trading partner in goods, according to U.S. Census Bureau data.

This is proof positive that the tariffs on China are working, forcing manufacturers to flee in search of a better deal.  The fact that, for now, they’re finding a better deal in Mexico instead of returning immediately to domestic manufacturing in the U.S. isn’t all bad news.  Mexico is a nation with only one tenth of the population of China, and with a GDP (gross domestic product) per capita that’s approximately 25% higher than China’s.  That means that Mexico doesn’t have enough slack labor force to take on all of the manufacturing currently done in China.  The demand for labor will quickly drive wages that are already higher in Mexico than in China even higher, to the point where manufacturing in Mexico has no advantage over the U.S.

The data shows that the tariffs are really beginning to work.

 

 

 


American consumers, rise up against American workers!

June 5, 2019

First Trump raised tariffs on Chinese imports and, as the media proclaims, American consumers are the ones who’ll get hurt, paying higher prices for nearly everything.  Now Trump has threatened across-the-board tariffs on all Mexican imports.  Again, American consumers will pay the price, with everything from cherry tomatoes and avocados to cars and trucks rising in price.  Who’s responsible for this?  Trump!  And who’s responsible for Trump getting elected?  American workers, fed up with no raises and losing their jobs to outsourcing!  How selfish of them!

Enough is enough!  It’s time for American consumers to rise up against these greedy American workers!  Do you know one?  Boycott their products!  Demonstrate in front of their businesses!  Write your congressmen!  March on Washington!

What’s that you say?  You know an American worker?  Your spouse is one?  Your mom or dad?  You’re actually one yourself!?!?  Shame on you!  If your spouse or your parents are American workers, maybe you can sit them down and explain to them how greedy they are.  Perhaps they should quit fighting for their jobs – may even just quit altogether.  If we can import everything a little cheaper, then we’ll all be better off.  Won’t we?

Obviously, I’m being facetious.  But this is exactly what the media would have you believe.  Every single story on the subject focuses on the higher costs for American consumers.  They never, ever want you to hear that the real long-term effect of tariffs is to provide motivation for companies to manufacture products domestically, which will benefit every American worker as the demand for labor drives wages higher, benefitting every single American – even those who aren’t in the labor force, but are dependent on someone who is.  Why?  Because corporations see the developing world – places like China and Mexico and many others – as the source of future profit growth.  America is fully developed, with little potential for profit growth.  They’re bored with America.  To them, America is yesterday’s news and Americans are irrelevant to the future.  Their strategy is to milk America’s wealth to fund development in the rest of the world, and to scare the hell out of them if they even think about standing up for themselves.

Since every American is a consumer, while just under half are workers, the free-trader globalists see focusing on consumer prices as a winning strategy in their fight against tariffs.  They’re counting on the majority of Americans who are not in the labor force to forget that they are dependent on someone who is.

Ask yourself this:  which is a better situation – to be unemployed while prices are slightly lower, or to have a good-paying job while having to pay slightly higher prices?  The answer is obvious.  Without a source of income, you can afford nothing.  Many people have committed suicide after losing their jobs and all hope of a secure retirement.  None that I’m aware of have committed suicide because the price of something rose a little.

Besides, the whole notion that we are paying lower prices for these imports is a myth.  When did the price of anything actually go down when it was outsourced to China or Mexico?  When did the Consumer Price Index actually drop?  Did the price of cars drop when they moved the factory to Mexico?  Did the price of iPhones drop when they moved production to China?  Of course not.  The narrative that says prices will soar if we have to manufacture domestically is nothing more than a scare tactic.  They hope you’re not bright enough to realize that the higher wages they’d be paying American workers will offset any small price increases.

Do you really think that all of this outsourcing – all of the enormous expenditures involved in rebuilding factories and infrastructure overseas and moving their sources as far from their customer base as they possibly could – that all of it was done in the interest of saving you a few bucks?  Don’t be ridiculous.  It was all done in pursuit of those markets.  It’s not saving you a thing.  So there’s nothing to fear from moving manufacturing back to the U.S.

It’s been said that these tariffs on Mexico will jeopardize passage of the new trade deal that the Trump administration worked for over a year to get signed with Mexico.  Why would he risk that?  I believe it’s because he’s actually quite unhappy with that deal.  Those negotiations began early on in his presidency when he was heavily influenced by the team of advisers he had assembled – a team he thought represented the best people he could find – people who ultimately proved to be free trade globalists interested not in “making America great again,” but in token moves that would leave the status quo firmly entrenched while creating the appearance of doing something.

Trump hates that deal.  He’s since learned the power and effectiveness of tariffs and wishes he’d slapped them on Mexico from the beginning.  Most of the people involved in that deal have left the administration, replaced by people who actually support his trade agenda.  And he also knows that the odds of that deal being passed by a do-nothing Congress are slim to none, leaving the horrible, existing NAFTA deal in place.

Mexico might retaliate with tariffs of their own on American exports?  I hope they do.  It’d be the dumbest move they could make, only stiffening Trump’s resolve to raise our tariffs further and make them stick.

Finally, a note of thanks to investors who buy into the baloney that these tariffs are going to hurt the economy and sell their stocks in a panic.  I’m the guy who buys them at the big discount you’ve created!

 


Tariff news coverage makes me want to scream!

May 13, 2019

The simple-minded, sound-byte news coverage of the tariffs on China just makes me want to scream.  “Trump lied!  China isn’t paying for the tariffs!  American consumers are going to pay!  It’s going to cost every household $1,000 per year in higher prices!  A million jobs will be lost! China will retaliate with tariffs on American imports!  American farmers are getting killed by the loss of exports to China!”

I could go on.  The list of ways in which the sky is falling is endless as every business failure or challenge is now blamed on the tariffs on China.

The problem with the warnings that I’ve singled out above is that there is some truth to all of it – but only a half-truth.  Less than half, actually.  But the media sees an opportunity to stir up Trump hysteria, and hysteria always stirs more interest than factual, balanced reporting.  It’s the very reason that the evening news on every channel begins with a frantic proclamation of “BREAKING NEWS!!!” delivered breathlessly by a news anchor in a tone of voice that sounds like he/she just stopped in to the studio while fleeing the apocalypse to warn us all to run for our lives.  Then you find out it’s not breaking news at all, but some damn thing that happened earlier in the day – something of little significance to 99.9% of the viewing audience – that some reporter just found a new little twist on the story.  And so it is with the story about the tariffs on China.

So I’m here to lend some balance to the tariff story.  Let’s take the above claims one-by-one.

  1.   “Trump lied!  China isn’t paying for the tariffs!  Etc.”  Maybe he did mislead us a bit with this one, as it actually is the importer that will pay the tariff, not the Chinese exporter.  However, in some cases, those are one and the same, since Chinese exporters have set up importing companies in the U.S.  Regardless, China will pay in a big way and China will be hurt badly, much worse than the U.S.  Chinese companies will be pressured to cut their prices to offset the tariffs paid by the importers, and they will, in many cases perhaps offsetting the entire tariff.  They may actually sell their products below cost, wiping out all profit for the Chinese company and all revenue that the Chinese government would have collected.  Chinese exports will fall dramatically as American companies find new, cheaper sources for their products.  Unemployment and civil unrest in China will rise.  China’s ability to fund its military expansion will be badly crippled.
  2. “American consumers are going to pay … $1,000 per year in higher prices!”  Yeah.  No one has ever denied that.  But what’s missing here is the fact that someone is going to give you $2,000 per year – maybe more – to cover it.  Who’s going to do that?  Your employer.  If not your current employer, your new employer – the one who just built a factory in your town to make some product that’s now too expensive to be imported from China.  Uncle Sam will be chipping in too.  Now that he’s collecting revenue from importers – that is, from people who still insist on buying the now-expensive Chinese imports, he has room to cut your income taxes without blowing up the federal budget.  Don’t like paying the tariff on the import?  Then don’t.  Buy the cheaper American-made alternative.
  3. “A million jobs will be lost!”  This one isn’t even a half-truth.  It’s an outright lie perpetrated by globalist economists who don’t like American efforts to restore a balance of trade.  They arrive at this figure by assuming that consumers won’t be able to afford the higher prices and will stop spending, forcing retailers to lay off workers throughout the supply chain – shipyard workers, truck drivers, warehouse workers, people stocking shelves and working cash registers.  They hope it won’t dawn on you that people will immediately seek out cheaper alternatives and will quickly find them in new products provided by new companies and entrepreneurs who have seized on the opportunity.  Truth be told, if the trade deficit with China were completely eliminated, as it will be if both sides escalate their tariffs higher and higher, the U.S. would add several million manufacturing jobs to its economy, not to mention the jobs involved in building that manufacturing capacity.
  4. “China will retaliate with tariffs on American imports!”  Maybe, but not if they’re smart.  Don’t forget that the real prize here to restore a balance of trade with China.  Any combination of imports and exports that gets us to that point yields the same positive benefit for the American economy.  If China wants to choke off U.S. exports altogether, then we can achieve a balance of trade by completely choking off Chinese imports.  We’re still the big winner and China will be an even bigger loser.
  5. “American farmers are getting killed … !”  Hogwash.  While farmers’ exports to China may be taking a hit, the free-trade globalists don’t want you to know that farmers are more than making up for it by increased exports to other countries.  It’s easy to verify this for yourself.  Just look at the trade report published monthly by the Commerce Department.  Farm exports (including the much-publicized soybeans) were actually up in 2018 and year-to-date in 2019 are running ahead of 2018 exports.  I also read a story that blamed the demise of family farms on the China tariffs.  More hogwash.  Family farms have been vanishing for decades, unable to compete with the huge corporate farms that are swallowing them up.

Higher prices that are more than offset by higher wages are a good thing, not a bad thing.  That’s the very mechanism that has enabled our standard of living to advance.  We all pay higher prices for every product than we did in the past, but we have a higher standard of living because the demand for labor has driven our wages higher.  “Wages aren’t higher today,” you may say.  Yeah, and why is that?  It’s because of our huge trade imbalance, the very thing Trump is tackling with these tariffs.

If all Americans understood the truth about trade and the damage that huge trade deficits do to an economy, we’d all be cheering for Trump – Republicans and Democrats alike.  We’ve been in a trade war for decades and have been losing badly.  Finally we have someone willing to take up the fight.  That’s the truth.


March Trade Report Shows Signs that Trump Trade Policy is Working

May 11, 2019

https://www.bea.gov/system/files/2019-05/trad0319.pdf

The above-linked March trade report is showing signs that Trump’s trade policies – particularly the tariffs on Chinese imports – may be beginning to yield positive results for the U.S. economy.

The overall trade deficit held steady at the same level as February at $49.3 billion, the lowest level since June, 2018.  More importantly, the trade deficit in manufactured goods fell $1.1 billion to $68.2 billion, also the lowest level since June, 2018.  More encouraging is the way in which it fell, with imports falling $0.9 billion while exports of manufactured products rose to their highest level since May, 2018.  Here’s a chart of the trade deficit in manufactured goods:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.

In the past few months there’s been a lot of volatility in the data as U.S. businesses stocked up on Chinese imports to avoid the tariff.  Perhaps the March data reflects a slowdown in imports as businesses now find themselves overstocked, but I think that’s not likely.  I thought that when the February data was released, but it seems unlikely that such an overstocked condition could persist for three straight months.  It also wouldn’t explain why manufactured exports are at their highest level in ten months.

Most encouraging of all is that the trade deficit with China fell dramatically in March for the fifth straight month to $20.7 billion, its lowest level since March, 2014 – an unusually low deficit that year – a level more typical of the monthly deficits with China back in 2007.

Trump’s trade policies – attacking our trade deficit with tariffs – is working.  As I write this, on the very day that the tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports were more than doubled to 25%, the stock market has shrugged it off, recovering all of its early losses.  Investors are beginning to sense that all of “the sky is falling” warnings of dire consequences of the big, bad, scary U.S.-China trade war is a bunch of baloney.  They’re beginning to look past it, looking for companies that will benefit, and they’re finding plenty.  The fact is that China has been a huge drag on the American economy and even the global economy, and investors are beginning to see it that way. That’s China’s worst nightmare and a dream come true for Trump, now more  confident in pressing these policies even further.


Huge Opportunities in the New Post-China Environment

May 9, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-consumer-analysis/trumps-tariff-push-squeezes-businesses-and-consumers-idUSKCN1SD09Z

There’s plenty of news stories like the above-linked Reuters piece with all kinds of dire warnings about rising prices for businesses and consumers alike when tariffs rise on Chinese imports.  Not mentioned in any of them are the huge opportunities that this creates for other suppliers, including established companies and entrepreneurs right here in the U.S.  So that’s the focus of this post.

Yeah, prices for products made in China are going to rise substantially.  No surprise there, and it’s exactly what we want to happen when we slap tariffs on imports.  The purpose is not to tax consumers but to provide incentive to make products domestically.  If you’re a business owner, what do you do if your competitor suddenly finds it necessary to raise his prices?  You start licking your chops because you know that you suddenly have a big competitive advantage and that you’re going to make a killing.

What do you do if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur?  You see an opening to start a business and start supplying a product where cheap imports had previously shut you out of the market.   Let’s look at the example cited in the article – Samsonite luggage that’s currently made in China and is now subject to a 25% tariff.  Maybe you’re a company that makes thermo-formed parts for someone – perhaps interior parts for the auto industry.  Here’s an opportunity to diversify and provide thermo-formed luggage “clam shells” for Samsonite, a customer that you didn’t have a chance with previously.  Or maybe you’re a company that makes small casters for other applications, and now you have a chance to supply Samsonite with casters.  Heck, maybe you’re an even smaller company that just makes little injection-molded parts.  Now you have an opportunity to supply that caster-maker with the little polyurethane injection-molded wheels used in those casters.

Steven Smith, owner of Luggage & Leather Depot in Bethesda, Maryland, said a jump in tariffs to 25 percent “would absolutely kill our business.” He said his sales are off as much as 20 percent after he raised prices to reflect the higher costs.

The fact is that every retailer of Samsonite luggage (and other brands made in China) are faced with the same issue, and people still need to buy luggage somewhere.  Those businesses that don’t adapt and gain a competitive advantage by finding new, cheaper sources, will likely be “killed.”  The others, the ones who immediately start looking for new suppliers and different brands that won’t be subject to the tariffs on Chinese imports, will be the ones who thrive.

This same story applies to thousands of products currently sourced from China.  The opportunities created for domestic manufacturers are suddenly almost limitless.  It was easy for everyone to move their production to new suppliers in China.  It won’t be that hard to now source them from somewhere else.  Those with the drive and imagination to adapt will be big winners in this new post-China environment.