The impact of Trump tariffs

Randall Forsyth of Barron’s tallies the toll of trade disputes led by President Trump.

The tab for tariffs continues to rise, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average shedding another 3% in its sixth straight losing week, which was highlighted by President Donald Trump’s new threat to impose tariffs on Mexico to deter asylum-seeking migrants from crossing the U.S. border.

Even before this latest salvo in the trade war, the cost to U.S. stock investors has been $5 trillion, according to the calculations of Deutsche Bank strategist Binky Chadha. That’s the U.S. equity returns he figures were forgone in the past 17 months of the trade war. During that span, the S&P 500 index has been basically stuck in a range, which was a break from its 12.5% annual price appreciation since the bull market began in 2009. Those $5 trillion in gains that didn’t materialize equals 12 years of the bilateral merchandise trade deficit with China, Chadha points out.

While Trump famously views the stock market as the report card for his presidency, he’s not gaining much now politically from the tariffs, according to an analysis by Goldman Sachs’ economics team. Trump’s poll numbers aren’t even getting a boost in the key swing states of Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, they find. And while tariffs on Chinese goods are generally more popular than other trade levies, the president’s approval ratings actually tend to improve when trade tensions subside.

But even if the escalation in trade disputes takes a toll on the financial markets and the U.S. economy in the short term, Goldman thinks it would have only a modest impact on next year’s presidential election. What really counts is how the economy, the labor market, and stocks are doing around the second quarter of 2020.

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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