As Donald Trump begins his first week as the 45th president of the United States, investors and policy makers are speculating about whether his implicit threats of a trade war with China during his campaign will materialize.
A number of analysts are warning that a trade war between the world’s two largest economies could do more harm to U.S. companies than to Chinese ones, according to an analysis by Bloomberg.
Many more companies in the MSCI U.S. index for example, depend on China for at least 10 percent of their sales compared to Chinese companies that depend on the U.S. for the same amount of business, according to Morgan Stanley market strategist Jonathan Garner.
U.S. firms with the largest percentage of sales coming from China, and thus most likely to suffer from a trade war, are Ambarella Inc., Texas Instruments Inc., Marvell Technology Group, Genco Shipping & Trading Ltd., and Diana Shipping Inc., as indicated by the Bloomberg chart below.
Trumped-Up Trade Talk
In his inaugural address, Trump said the U.S. had allowed foreign industries to become enriched at the expense of American families and workers, who he promised to protect from “the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs.”
Though Trump neither mentioned China specifically nor detailed any protectionist measures, it’s very likely that China would retaliate to any steps taken by the U.S.
Bloomberg notes that China has already prepared contingency plans. A preview of the sweeping actions that China might take is illustrated by the boycotts it imposed on Japanese goods when tensions with Japan flared in 2012. (To read more, see: The Cost of Anti-Japanese Sentiment in China).
Trade War Fallout
While many are viewing the possibility of a trade war as more of a black swan event, the Chinese media had no trouble concluding from Trump’s inaugural speech that trade relations between the two countries were likely to change in dramatic ways.
Bloomberg warns that such dramatic changes could lead to Chinese boycotts of American products made by companies like Nike Inc., General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Tiffany & Co.. (To read more, see: How Will Trump’s Policies on China Impact U.S. Business?).
Chinese producers, of course, also would be hit hard, especially in consumer electronics, apparel and household appliances. Yet, as noted, U.S. companies may be at more at risk in a U.S.-China trade war than the other way around. If that happens, watch for the stocks of companies most exposed to be sold off.
Most Important Trading Partners of the United States
The United States as the biggest economy in the world has traditionally been at the center of global trade flows. China has taken the front seat as the most traded with partner. Most of the total worth of trade stems from imports. With Canada, the second most important trade partner, trade flows are more balanced.
This chart shows the top 5 U.S. trading partners for goods ($billions & % of total trade), year-to-date November 2016
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