Welcome to the Trade War

Welcome to the Trade War

Another rough day for US stocks (overnight for us). The Dow Jones is down another 800 points.

This is turning out to be a sharp stress test for any stocks you happen to be holding.

That’s not always bad, if you’re invested for the long term. You can get an idea as to which of your stocks hold up the best. You can see if they’re in ‘strong hands’ or not.

It’s not so fun to ride it out though.

However, note one thing…80% of US companies have beat their revenue guidance from their fourth quarter results so far. About half of the companies in the S&P 500 are still to go.

The fundamentals look okay here… But the short-term action? Not so much.

This US rough patch will keep flowing through to the ASX today. It will be interesting to see how strongly the Aussie market follows the lead of the US.

It hadn’t risen as much, so it seems less vulnerable to as sharp a drop.

Here’s another reason why: Bloomberg reports that the mining sector has more money than it knows what to do with right now.

Right now, Rio Tinto and BHP can buy back stock, raise dividends, and invest for future growth — with change to spare.

Naturally, so much of this depends on China; the driving force behind commodity price strength.

My colleague, Jim Rickards, is worried that trade tensions between the US and China could send the world down a bad path…which begins with currency wars and ends with shooting ones.

That’s certainly one risk to Australia, and mining stocks.

To see the threads Jim is following and analysing, read on below…


 Callum Newman,

Editor, The Daily Reckoning Australia


How Trump Rejects the Globalised Agenda

By Jim Rickards

Trump recently announced steep 30% US tariffs on imports of solar panels and washing machines.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce expressed ‘strong dissatisfaction’ about the move, saying it ‘aggravates the global trade environment’.

Trump is not done with tariffs. In the days and weeks ahead, we can expect further announcements with regard to steel and aluminum imports to the US.

Again, such imports come largely from China, but the tariffs will likely affect all exporters to the US.

Ironically, these announcements came just as President Trump was preparing to travel to Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum.

The Davos elites vehemently oppose both trade and capital controls, preferring instead a globalist ‘one world’ approach.

The only problem with the Davos elite theory is that it is empirically, historically and analytically wrong.

Rickards: Comparative advantage is bogus

The theory of free trade is based on an idea called ‘comparative advantage’.

This idea goes back to David Ricardo, an early 19th-century British economist. Ricardo’s theory was that countries should not try to be self-sufficient in all manufacturing, mining and agriculture.

Instead, countries should specialise in what they do best, and let others also specialise in what they do best. Then countries could simply trade the goods they make for the goods made by others.

All sides would be better off because prices would be lower as a result of specialisation in those goods, where you have a natural advantage.

It’s a nice theory, often summed up by the idea that American footballer Tom Brady should not mow his own lawn because it makes more sense to pay a landscaper while he practices football.

But the theory is flawed. For one thing, comparative advantage is not static. It changes over time. Importantly, comparative advantage can be created from thin air.

Taiwan had no comparative advantage in semiconductors in the 1980s, but the government made a political decision to create the state-sponsored Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company.

Today, Taiwan Semiconductor is the largest supplier of semiconductors in the world. The government nurtured Taiwan Semiconductor with tariffs and subsidies when it was most vulnerable to foreign competition.

Taiwan Semiconductor is now a publicly traded company that competes effectively around the world, but it would never have attained that status without government help in its early days.

If the theory of comparative advantage were true, Japan would still be exporting tuna fish instead of cars, computers, TVs, steel and much more.

The same can be said of the globalists’ view that capital should flow freely across borders.

That might be advantageous in theory, but market manipulation by central banks, and rogue actors like Goldman Sachs and big hedge funds, make it a treacherous proposition.

In the depths of the Asian financial crisis of 1997, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad closed Malaysia’s capital account to preserve hard currency and defend his exchange rate.

Mahathir was excoriated at the time by the likes of George Soros. Soros went so far as to call Mahathir a ‘menace to his country’.

But scholars today agree that Mahathir made the right move. In recent years, even the IMF has said there are certain circumstances where capital controls are fully justified.

If open trade and open capital flows are flawed ideas, why do the Davos elite support them?

The one world vision undercutting the West

The answer is that these theories, which have superficial appeal to everyday citizens, are the perfect smokescreen for the elites’ hidden agenda.

That agenda is to diminish the power of the United States, and the US dollar, in world affairs and to enhance the power of rising nations, especially China.

If several hundred million Chinese can be pulled from poverty by leaving the US market open while China subsidises its companies, imposes its own tariffs, steals intellectual property, and limits US foreign direct investment, then that’s fine.

If US workers lose their jobs in the process, that’s fine too. The elites don’t care about the US; they only care about their ‘one world’ vision. Trump is calling their bluff. When Trump says ‘America First’, he means it.

So does Trump’s top trade adviser, Robert Lighthizer. A veteran of the Reagan administration, Lighthizer forced the Japanese to move their auto plants to the US in the 1980s by imposing steep tariffs on Japanese imported cars.

Thousands of high-paying US manufacturing jobs were created as a result. Lighthizer plans to run the same playbook against the Chinese today.

Lighthizer is part of a hawkish ‘trade troika’ consisting of himself, Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, Jr., and White House trade adviser Peter Navarro.

All three are urging President Trump to impose a set of tariffs on China involving not only washing machines and solar panels, but steel, aluminum, and theft of intellectual property.

Opposing the trade troika are trade doves including national economic adviser Gary Cohn, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and the CEOs of major global corporations such as Boeing, Apple and General Motors, which all derive large profits from Chinese operations.

The hawks and doves fought each other to a standstill in 2017 because of wishful thinking about Chinese help with North Korea, and the importance of a united front to pass the tax bill.

With hopes for China now dispelled and the tax bill passed into law, the trade agenda is front and centre.

This is not a ‘kick the can down the road’ situation. Trump is confronting hard deadlines on key decisions.

America has always prospered with high tariffs to protect its industries. From Alexander Hamilton’s plan for infant manufacturing to Henry Clay’s American Plan, the US has always known how to protect its industries and create American jobs. Trump is returning to that tradition.

The problem is that this will not be a smooth ride. It will take years for US solar panel manufacturers to get back on their feet.

(One of the largest US firms filed for bankruptcy protection last year, but it continues to operate in reorganisation under court supervision.)

A full-scale trade war will hurt world growth, even as it helps US growth.

Given the trillions in dollar-denominated debt in emerging markets, a full-scale foreign sovereign debt crisis could be in the making if those emerging markets countries cannot earn dollars from exports to pay their debts.

Trump did not impose these tariffs in 2017 because he needed Chinese help with the North Korean situation. But, China did not do all it could in North Korea, and there is good evidence that China is helping North Korea cheat on existing sanctions.

As if to rub salt in the wound, China reported today that its 2017 trade surplus with the US was $275 billion — the highest figure ever.

Once China’s lack of cooperation regarding North Korea became clear, Trump saw no harm in confronting China on trade — something he’s been talking about since the summer of 2015, during the early days of his campaign.

The Chinese may choose to retaliate not so much with their own tariffs, but with other forms of financial warfare, including its threats to move its reserves away from US Treasuries.

As China buys fewer US Treasuries, the most likely substitute asset class is gold. This is one more reason to expect the recent weak dollar and strong gold trends to continue for the remainder of this year and beyond.


Jim Rickards,

For The Daily Reckoning Australia