On Thursday, President Donald Trump signed an executive memorandum that would impose tariffs of up to $60 billion on Chinese imports, igniting fear and uncertainty into the market and bringing it back into correction territory.
A glance at the biggest losers in the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) over the past month illustrates investors' mounting fears over Trump's protectionist agenda and its potential to spark a full on trade war with the manufacturing powerhouse across the Pacific.
While Extremely Difficult to Predict Effects of Trade War, US Consumer and Agro-Businesses Could Be Among Worst Off
While many on the Street agree that it's extremely difficult and complex to untangle the global value chain to predict who would suffer from a trade war and to what degree, several U.S. consumer and agriculture companies are seen as faring worse than others. In a story published on March 22, Barron’s journalist Reshma Kapadia cited analysts from Riedel Research, Yardeni Research and UBS to support that thesis.
As for the agriculture industry, a shift by China to exporters such as Brazil and Argentina for produce such as soybeans could weigh on revenue and earnings. Companies in the supply chain at risk include global food processing and commodities trading corporation Archer Daniels Midland Co. (ADM) and farm equipment maker Deere & Co. , according to Reidel Research's David Riedel. Riedel, who heads the emerging markets-focused firm, noted that China could fight back against the tariffs by making it harder for U.S. companies to reach its much sought-after consumers. The world's most populous country has seen its middle class boom, driving U.S. firms to invest billions in the region.
"Beijing has a long history of initiating or supporting consumer boycotts in support of national objectives," wrote Riedel, highlighting risks facing companies such as Nike, Apple, Yum! Brands (YUM) and Starbucks Corp., who have all managed to secure strong positions in the region.
Yardeni Research strategist Ed Yardeni noted that it's hard to predict the impact of tariffs due to the fact that it's not always known where S&P 500 companies sell their goods, with only half of them disclosing whether they have foreign sales. Of the firms that do offer more detailed information, Asia accounted for approximately 8.5% of foreign sales, ahead of Europe at 8.1%. The sectors most reliant on overseas revenues include energy, technology and materials, who all generate over 50% of their sales outside of the U.S.
Li Zeng of UBS echoed the sentiment regarding the difficulty in predicting the effects of a trade war, yet highlighted that over 40% of U.S. imports from China are tech products and electric equipment, which could make them a neutral target. Bringing light to the complexity of trade in today's interconnected world, he noted that while the U.S. imported $107 billion in tech products from China in 2014, he estimates that more than a quarter actually came from its global value chain partners such as Korea, Taiwan and Japan.