Energy CEOs Most Negative About Trump Tariffs, Tech Most Positive: Survey

Washington and Beijing’s trade disputes have weighed heavily on stock markets over the past year. Whenever talks between the world’s two biggest economies turn sour, global indices tend to plummet.

Corporate America is now questioning that logic. UBS Group AG recently asked 500 firms for feedback on how they expect to be impacted should no agreement be reached between the two countries by the March 1 deadline.

In the survey, reported on by Bloomberg, about 59% of respondents said they expect a rise in tariffs on imports to boost their profits. Increased domestic investment was cited as a key advantage, should the cost of doing businesses abroad grow.

Interestingly, tech and industrial companies, viewed by investors as among the most vulnerable to growing trade tensions, were identified as being part of the bullish camp. Executives in these sectors predicted that extra tariffs will boost investments, lift demand and enable them to charge higher prices, helping to widen profit margins.

Those comments shone a new light on how tech and industrial firms, both of which are known for selling a lot of their goods in China, view tensions between Washington and Beijing. In recent months, some of the sectors biggest names, including Apple Inc. (AAPL), Caterpillar Inc. (CAT), Micron Technology Inc. (MU) and Nvidia Corp. (NVDA), warned that trade wars have been weighing on their businesses.

The energy industry is also very dependent on Chinese consumption. China imposed a a 10% tariff on U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, in September. Unsurprisingly, executives from that sector were the most negative about trade wars in UBS’ survey.

China is now reportedly replacing American crude imports with oil from Russia and Saudi Arabia. Unlike tech and industrial firms, energy bosses aren’t confident that domestic demand can fill the shortfall of reduced appetite from China, the world’s biggest consumer of commodities.

"We understand the need to address discriminatory trade practices, but this policy will essentially impose a new tax on $200 billion worth of products on which American families and businesses rely,” said Kyle Isakower, economic policy vice president for the American Petroleum Institute, in a statement in September about the escalating trade war.

While Trump has tried to protect U.S. solar panel manufacturers by slapping duties on imports, the trade war has made Chinese components required by these companies for production more expensive.

Another interesting finding from the survey was that bigger companies are more confident about trade tariffs than their smaller counterparts. That observation is contradictory to the stock market’s fear that multinational conglomerates have more to lose.

On Monday, Bank of America revealed that many S&P 500 companies who blamed trade wars for their recent woes have already factored in a potential hike in tariffs into their outlooks, based on assumptions that Beijing and Washington won’t iron out their differences by March 1. Such moves are “suggesting some upside risk if more amicable resolution is reached,” Savita Subramanian and other strategists at the bank said, according to Bloomberg.