Podcast: Is the China trade truce for real?

By Jeremy Schwartz, CFA, Executive Vice President, Global Head of Research, WisdomTree

The trade dispute with China and the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) continual hiking of interest rates are the two most important drivers of the market’s recent volatility.

Our latest “Behind the Markets” podcast covers these two critical issues with Wharton Professor Jeremy Siegel, Liqian Ren of WisdomTree, Marc Chandler of Bannockburn Global Forex and Andy Rothman of Matthews Asia.

Professor Siegel believes the recent speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and his critical words “the Fed Funds Rate is not far from the neutral rate” settles Trump’s assault on Powell as the whipping boy and cause of market volatility—now the primary issue Trump must confront for causing market volatility is his trade dispute with China.


Trade Dynamics

Although the headlines over the weekend were positive and we’ve avoided the worst-case scenario, the issues are far from solved.

Chandler was the glummest and most concerned of our podcast participants and suggested we’ve entered a new “Cold War” with China that will divide the world.

He highlighted a clause in the new North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico that forbids entering into a trade agreement with a non-market economy (code for China).
Chandler thinks this was precedent-setting and future trade agreements with Europe will contain a similar clause. China is also taking a similar tack in their global deals by saying that if you want Chinese aid, you cannot recognize Taiwan.

Big Pause?

Going into the G20 meetings this past weekend, Rothman did not think we would get a full resolution, but rather that we would see signs of a truce.

Rothman pointed out how even Trump’s own economic team finds a trade war could subtract 50 to 100 basis points off GDP growth in 2019, and this is affecting the markets, sentiment and corporate profits—all against Trump goals.

It turned out that Rothman was exactly right, as President Trump’s and President Xi’s teams met during the summit and agreed to a 90-day “ceasefire” of the trade war.

Earnings Growth

Rothman believes a changing tone and direction of bilateral conversations with China could create an opportunity in the Chinese markets—lifting concerns and pessimism.

He sees earnings growth as being good, valuations as being depressed, and macro conditions also as pretty good.

Rothman also believes China is the world’s best consumer story—with phenomenal growth in income driving phenomenal growth in retail sales—all while savings rates are still high.

Social Media  

Ren further questioned framing the tensions between China and the U.S. as a “trade war.” She sees this as a “dispute,” but overall, she also questioned pessimism of guaranteed losers in this trade dispute.

She pointed out that Chinese social media posts often welcomed the trade tariffs President Trump enacted because China’s response was to lower their internal taxes—making many American-made goods, such as cancer drugs and cars, cheaper for Chinese consumers.

This supports Rothman’s view that China is the world’s best consumer story, and the pause to negotiate trade issues is more of a catalyst to revisit exposures to the battered-down emerging markets.

Uncertainty Aplenty

One cautious note: Ren pointed out over the weekend that Chinese news reports of the dinner conversations had a very different tone and explanation than U.S. stories.

While the market initially cheered Trump’s message, we may be back three months from now facing a new round of tariff debates. Unfortunately, this new tariff dispute and uncertainty feels like the new normal and an issue we will be coming back to again and again over the coming months.

Please listen to our full podcast below.

Versions of this article first appeared on the WisdomTree blog and SeekingAlpha on December 4, 2018.

Photo Credit: Bernard Goldbach via Flickr Creative Commons

Disclosure: Certain of the information contained in this article is based upon forward-looking statements, information and opinions, including descriptions of anticipated market changes and expectations of future activity. WisdomTree believes that such statements, information, and opinions are based upon reasonable estimates and assumptions. However, forward-looking statements, information and opinions are inherently uncertain and actual events or results may differ materially from those reflected in the forward-looking statements. Therefore, undue reliance should not be placed on such forward-looking statements, information and opinions.

About the Author: Jeremy Schwartz, CFA, Director of Research, WisdomTree Asset Management is responsible for the WisdomTree equity index construction process and oversees research across the WisdomTree family. Prior to joining WisdomTree, Jeremy was Professor Jeremy Siegel’s head research assistant and helped with the research and writing of Stocks for the Long Run and The Future for Investors. He is also co-author of the Financial Analysts Journal paper “What Happened to the Original Stocks in the S&P 500?” Jeremy is a graduate of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania and currently stays involved with Wharton by hosting the Wharton Business Radio program “Behind the Markets” on SiriusXM 111.