The Progressive Ensign

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Category: Trade (Page 2 of 2)

1100 Economists Predict Trade War Disaster



The economist group letter to President Trump quotes passages from a 1930 letter that was ignored by government leaders at the time leading to a trade war and the Great Depression, many economists believe.

“Much has changed since 1930 — for example, trade is now significantly more important to our economy — but the fundamental economic principles as explained at the time have not”, the economists declared including last year’s Nobel winner Richard Thaler and former George H.W. Bush economic advisor Gregory Mankiw.   Economists in 1930 advised against the Smoot – Hawley act at the time causing a trade war and a disastrous economic downturn for all Americans.

The trade war with China has already begun as we noted in our April 23rd blog the Chinese have not stood back waiting, they placed at 179 % tariff on sorghum shipped from the US causing China bound ships to reverse course.  Soybean orders have been cut way back by the Chinese as well:

Sources: Bloomberg, The Wall Street Journal, The Daily Shot – 5/7/18

Corn contracts are in jeopardy as well in the Midwest as the Chinese threaten tariffs on those crops as well.  Corn farmers are already facing increased competition from Brazil and other countries undercutting their prices.

The reality is the Trump Trade War is on!  Companies and nations are already acting on the threats and in some cases the implemented tariffs that the present Administration has in a misguided manner put in place.

We do not understand why the White House is ignoring the lessons of history, their own constituents in the Farm Belt and 1100 economists in implementing a catastrophic policy that will hurt every American’s pocketbook and many of our foreign allies.

Next Steps:

Our blog on April 2nd outlined two distinct factors that the Administration policy makers need to take into consideration:

First, we need to understand how corporations, suppliers and customers respond to political uncertainty.  Corporations either buyer or seller are seeking certainty around first of all selling their products and second at the highest price.  Second, when our government starts picking winners and losers in the US economy and linking unconnected segments like sacrificing US agriculture for intellectual property theft by China from US high technology companies – then any economic shot is fair game.  Just the threat of tariffs on certain goods is enough to cause customers, in this case Chinese buyers of US agriculture goods to find other lower cost suppliers.  Once these buyers discover new suppliers with lower prices and similar quality they are likely not to switch back to US suppliers.  Sales for US agriculture companies are likely to drop as a result.”

The solution is in working within the international frameworks of the WTO and our agreements with other nations to peacefully solve these economic issues. Sound economic policy is based on win-win agreements that put in place long term relationships that both sides can build their economic futures on. Plus, these are complex integrated trade issues and cannot be settled by blunt, prejudiced based ideas that history has proven are false.

Trade War Heats Up – China Slaps 179 % Tariff on US Sorghum



Two grain ships filled with sorghum grain reversed course or headed to new destinations as China announced last week that they would require a 179 % deposit on the commodity.

Image: The Ship RB Eden Turning – Bloomberg – 4/20/18

US farmers shipped about $1 billion per year over the past two years of sorghum to China according to the Wall Street Journal. China is specifically targeting Trump states to make the point that a tit for tat trade war will end badly for US producers.

As other countries mount their own tariffs to US goods, and the US slaps tariffs on imported goods prices will go up.  When prices go up, inflation increases causing interest rates to rise, which means that interest rates rise on credit cards to mortgages.  Every consumer has some debt and the inflation wave will crash through the US financial system, ending the 2nd longest economic growth period since WWII – though the economy has helped the top 20 % the most versus the 80 % in the working class.

Next steps:

As we have noted previously, business leaders are already making decisions and calculations like turning ships around.  The Administration’s announcement and follow through on steel aluminum and lumber have distorted markets artificially causing increased prices and supply disruptions. Our leaders need to stop this bullying approach toward our trade partners, use international forums and work within our trade alliances to settle trade issues. Starting a trade war will cause everyone to lose money, jobs and trigger an economic downturn. The working class will be hurt the most, as they have the least amount of money saved and are usually the first to be fired in any falling economy.

Corporations Are Making Decisions Now in Midst of Trade Uncertainty



Our President just threw the trade dialog for a loop this afternoon requesting his trade team come up with another $100 billion in tariffs against China on top of the already $50 billion he has announced.  He thinks that by starting a verbal trade war with a protracted ‘up to 6 months’ negotiation with China and other countries that the US economy will come out the winner.  The winning outcome will likely never happen! Why?  Because corporate leaders are already factoring in an incredibly slow negotiation.  Corporations abhor uncertainty, the policy uncertainty index with this President is off the charts.  Executives are making decisions on investments for the next 3 – 5 sometimes 10 years out into the future.

Source: Factset, Stanford, Northwestern, University of Chicago, The Wall Street Journal 4/4/18

Professors Baker of Northwestern, Bloom of Stanford, and Davis of University of Chicago developed an uncertainty index based on mentions of ‘certainty’ and ‘uncertainty’ in newspaper articles.  With a relatively quiet economy and the first 12 months of President Trump’s administration now behind us, we expect the ‘uncertainty’ mentions to soar with trade war, stock market prices falling and cross industry conflicts about which industry should be sacrificed for another one.

The major stock indexes have fallen as much as 10 % year to date and yesterday, the Dow Jones Average was on a roller coaster down as much as 510 points then closing at 210 points up at the close.  Money managers hate uncertainty too, as they need to make daily decisions in regard to investments of millions of dollars in trusted to them to grow for retirement programs, trusts, endowments and investors looking out 5 and 10 years.

The present trade war was started by our President because he said it would be ‘easy to win.’ Yet, he has little experience in complex global product and services trade.   Treaties that he is ready to tear up took years to negotiate, analyze the complex trade data and gain buy in from all parties.

Executives are looking at data, researching alternatives, hiring consulting firms and looking to figure out a long term plan now – with alternatives if the trade war is won by the US or if it is lost by the US or their industry.  They will make decisions based on the present level of ‘uncertainty’ and see alternatives now, not waiting to see the outcome.  Business leaders cannot wait, they have businesses to run today, shareholders to report to, employees to manage, and products or services to build and sell.

In the steel sector, companies in the US are already stockpiling steel before the tariffs on imports start, spiking prices then there will be a glut of product with prices falling.  Soybean farmers in the US already reeling from competition from Brazil and other countries will feel the immediate fall of sales from China, as Chinese customers seek lower cost ‘safe’ non US suppliers for products like pork.  Pork futures prices that farmers use to price their hog products have already dropped 15 % in the last month and a deep spiral down of 2.58 % today. Prices are already dropping customers and suppliers are making decisions to reduce uncertainty and these decisions will cause market chaos leading to a recession or worse.

Next Step:

We need to wind down the brinksmanship now, focus on the real issues behind trade imbalances that have been developing for decades, and confront intellectual property theft on a straight on policy basis not through tariffs. We need to use the international forums like the WTO that have been carefully built over the past 50 years to ensure prosperity across the world for all economies and at the same time protect US worker jobs, incomes and future career opportunities.  We have said in previous posts that the time is now to reverse direction before it is too late and the global economy is severely damaged.

China Retaliates in Trump Trade Battle



China announced yesterday they will be placing tariffs on 128 American goods for a total of $3 billion dollars in response to the Trump administration tariffs of 25 % on steel and 10 % on aluminum.  The situation is posed to escalate as the President is expected to announce $60 billion of new tariffs on Chinese imports this week.

The US agriculture industry is reeling from increased competition from overseas countries like Brazil and now the administration is throwing a trade war into the mix.  Farmers are perplexed as to how to navigate these new trade waters.

Source: US Department of Agriculture, The Wall Street Journal – 4/2/18

The US agriculture industry is one of the bright spots in US exports accounting for $140.5 billion in exports for 2017 according to the US Department of Agriculture.  China receives about $22 billion of US exports last year in pork, and meat products.  While the $3 billion in tariffs is not large it maybe just an opening round in the economic shots being fired by the US and China.

While some industry analysts look at just the dollar amounts involved we see a very disturbing trend in the tenor of the conduct of this trade conflict.  This administration has distinguished itself by being bullying, intimidating, impulsive, vengeful and unpredictable – not good traits for a positive trade negotiation outcome.

Next Steps:

First, we need to understand how corporations, suppliers and customers respond to political uncertainty.  Corporations either buyer or seller are seeking certainty around first of all selling their products and second at the highest price.  Second, when our government starts picking winners and losers in the US economy and linking unconnected segments like sacrificing US agriculture for intellectual property theft by China from US high technology companies – then any economic shot is fair game.  Just the threat of tariffs on certain goods is enough to cause customers, in this case Chinese buyers of US agriculture goods to find other lower cost suppliers.  Once these buyers discover new suppliers with lower prices and similar quality they are likely not to switch back to US suppliers.  Sales for US agriculture companies are likely to drop as a result.

We have said in our Insight Byte of March 6th that starting a trade war linking disconnected parts of the economy, not using international bodies like the World Trade Organization will just lead to lose – lose economics for global corporations and consumers.  Lost jobs will result, economic recession or depression will spiral downward and it will take years to recover.  Sound, research based trade policies based on win-win partnerships are the only way to turn this situation around.  This administration has opened an economic Pandora’s box that it will not be able to close.

Threatening Mexico Will Lead to Loss of American Jobs – Let’s Build Bridges Not Walls

(Editor Note: This is the third in a series of posts examining the polices of the new GOP administration.)

The View:

In the past week there has been a series of threatening tweets from POTUS45 to President Nieto telling him that if the trade imbalance is not fixed he will impose a 20 % tariff on all imports from Mexico.  In a vacuum it may seem  like this would save US jobs.  Yet, the facts are that the US depends on Mexico to purchase $235 billion of exports each year. Damaging the Mexican economy will cause a loss of jobs and purchasing capacity by Mexican workers leading the loss of US jobs.  The solution is to tax those actions we don’t want like manufacturing plants and jobs being moved to Mexico and offering incentives to companies to hire and keep workers here for advanced manufacturing and automation.

The Story:

We need a win-win trade relationship with our southern neighbor.  The number of illegal immigrants in the US has dropped to an all-time low of 10.9 million based on an analysis by Robert Warren at the Center for Migration Studies of US Census Bureau data.  Also, his study shows that immigration by Mexicans to the US has dropped by 7 % over the past few years while immigration has increased by 5 % from Central American countries.  Experts believe one factor in the reduction of immigration is the improved Mexican economy providing better wages for Mexican workers. In a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal a worker describes how his life has changed:

“Alexander Calderón, 46, grew up the son of a farmer in a rural part of the Mexican state of Veracruz. He started working at Metalsa welding frames for Chrysler trucks in 1993, initially earning 600 pesos, or about $194 at the time, per month. He now earns 40,000 pesos, $1,860, per month as a supervisor in the plant’s steel hydroforming division, owns a house in the Monterrey suburb of Guadalupe, and sent his oldest son to study accounting at the state of Nuevo Leon’s public university.

“For me, I really started to notice the development of industries here in the last 15 years as companies from other countries came here. That’s when my salary started to go up,” Mr. Calderón said. “It’s gotten very competitive.”

Mexican workers with good jobs has dramatically reduced their desire to migrate to the US.  Trade reduces crime, and integrates the economies of both countries more closely. For example, before NAFTA cars sold by Mexico had only 5 % US content, today they have 40 %.  When both countries prosper through a productive partnership workers will enjoy a better life. Yes, there has been a loss of US auto industry jobs but a trade war would cost US jobs too.  The Center for Automotive Research estimates that a 35 % tariff on imports would cause a loss of 450,000 car sales, leading to 6700 jobs lost in North America in both the US and Mexico and a loss of 31,000 jobs in US parts supply chain companies.

However, it is estimated that only 18 % of the loss of all US manufacturing jobs has been caused by overseas job placement according to a recent Ball State University study.  82 % of manufacturing job losses are due to automation.  Auto plants in both the US and Mexico are highly automated.

The latest round of tweets between POTUS45 and President Nieto on NAFTA trade has resulted in a standstill and cancellation of their planned meeting next week.  Even though talks are at a standstill the series of US threats has badly damaged the Mexican economy already. As noted in our Economic News section, since November 8th the Mexican Peso has dropped in value against the dollar by 13 % and the Mexican stock market dived by 20 %.

The US exports 50 % of the gasoline that Mexicans purchase. If Mexican companies are hit with a 20 % tariff on exports to the US, Mexican corporate sales to the US will drop.  Mexican firms will be forced to lay off workers. Unemployed Mexican workers will buy less US gasoline. Then, US oil field workers lose their jobs.  Is the tariff policy trading US auto industry jobs for oil worker jobs?

This chart outlines by industry sector the exports and imports between the US and Mexico in 2015 (right click to enlarge the chart under a separate tab):

The largest trade imbalance with Mexico is in auto parts, trucks, buses, cars and crude oil.  The US ships more computer technology, telecom gear, and gasoline to Mexico than we import. Note Mexico is a major oil exporter, shipping oil here for refining into gasoline then piped back to Mexico.  What would a 20 % tariff on Mexican oil do to the US gasoline industry?

Prior to the 1994 NAFTA agreement with Mexico, Mexico ran a trade deficit with the US. Since then Mexican imports to the US have exploded from $65 billion per year to $295 billion in 2016.  While US exports to Mexico have jumped from $68 billion to $235 billion, particularly boosting the economies of the border states like Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. Yet, there is a US trade deficit of $60 billion in 2016. What should the solution be to keep companies investing in the US and saving US manufacturing jobs?

The Solution:

While the NAFTA trade agreement should be reviewed for fairness for both countries and workers, in the meantime taxes and incentives are the preferred approach:

  1. Tax companies that move jobs to other countries. For example, a company moves a $1 billion plant with a 1000 workers offshore, they pay a 10 % plant offshore tax or $100M, and $20k per worker or $20M penalty to be used for training and apprenticeship programs in the US. (Tax the action we don’t want.)
  1. Establish worker councils in corporations to make decisions jointly, ensuring apprentice and new job training programs are in place.
  1. Offer incentives to keep plants here including fed, state, and local tax reductions, and training programs implemented in local universities and colleges.
  1. Train US workers on advanced assembly and use of robotics in manufacturing to build increased productivity capability and reduce costs.

Editor Note: References for this article are under the Research tab in US – Mexican Trade Trends.)





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