Tariffs Up, Talks End, Chinese Retaliation Next

Whatever the ultimate end point of the trade talks between the United State and China, the next step is almost certainly the announcement of retaliatory measures by China in the wake of the Trump administration’s decision to raise tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese exports to the United States to 25% from 10%.

The likely step isn’t the imposition of tit for tat tariffs on U.S. exports to China. Instead look for Chinese moves that are easier to implement and that hit hard at U.S. energy and agricultural exports.

China has already put a 25% tariff on soy beans so I don’t think we’ll see more tariff pressure. But China, the biggest buyer of U.S. soybeans, is likely to put an end to the “good faith” purchases of soybeans that were initially announced in February. That would ratchet up the pain in U.S. farm states and to take another bite out of already depressed farm incomes. The commodities market certainly expects this: soybean futures are down 11% since April 10.

I”d also look for measures that hit at U.S. exports of liquified natural gas to China. Increased U.S. exports to China were one of the biggest promises China made when the talks were focused on reducing the imbalance between U.S. imports from China and Chinese imports from the United States. Those promises seem to have been in abeyance in the last two months as shiploads of LNG landed in China from the United States have fallen to near zero in March and April. In light of the higher tariffs slapped on by the Trump administration today, I’d expect volumes of LNG landed in China to remain at the recent low level and that China will make it clear that future purchases will continue at very low levels.

Some of the stocks that would feel the effects of any retaliation like this from China are liquified natural gas exporter Cheniere Energy (LNG), construction equipment exporter Caterpillar (CAT), and farm equipment producer Deere (DE).Shares of Caterpillar and Deere were up slightly in this afternoon’s recovery from the morning’s China-driven sell with the two stocks climbing 0.11% and 0.37%, respectively. Cheniere, which reported earnings after the close yesterday, closed up 4.46% today.