Stocks Plunge Sharply After China Announces Retaliatory Tariffs

May 13, 2019

By Rebecca Heilweil

Updated 4:34 p.m. ET

Earlier Monday morning, China's finance ministry announced that starting June 1, Beijing will raise tariffs on more than $60 billion of U.S. goods up to 25 percent ー depending on the product.

The markets did not react kindly. By the end of the day, the Dow Jones had fallen by more than 600 points, and the Nasdaq was down by 3.4 percent.

China's announcement follows President Trump's decision late last week to raise tariffs on more than $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 to 25 percent. Stocks had also tumbled amid speculation of an intensifying trade war and declining faith that the two countries would forge a comprehensive deal from ongoing trade talks.

"The escalation of trade friction is not in the interests of the people of the two countries and the people of the world," a spokesman for China's ministry of commerce said in a statement last week. "China feels deeply sorry for that."

President Trump tweeted Monday a message to China's President Xi Jinping: "China will be hurt very badly if you don’t make a deal because companies will be forced to leave China for other countries."

"You had a great deal, almost completed, & you backed out!" Trump added.

"When we look at what the fundamental differences are ー mercantilism, not respecting intellectual property ー it was no surprise that the Chinese couldn't continue to hold to commitments that they made. I think President Trump, realistically, had to get their attention again," Steven Skancke, the chief economic adviser at Keel Point and a former U.S. Treasury staffer, told Cheddar.

Others aren't as supportive. “Frankly, it’s damaging the people who have supported President Trump," Guy Smith, a former special adviser to President Bill Clinton, told Cheddar. “It’s going to suck up car payment money and house payment money for the average consumer. And that means political trouble for President Trump when he tries to run for re-election."

“There is no good end to trade wars. History shows there’s just no winner. Everyone loses,” he added. “Our economy is, generally, doing alright. And yet the president persists.” Smith says that the U.S. should continue trade talks, and work within the framework of existing trade agreements.

Yesterday, Larry Kudlow, Trump's chief economic adviser, told Fox that Trump and Xi are likely to meet next month at the G-20 Summit in Japan. In the meantime, Kudlow has refuted Trump's notion that the tariffs won't significantly impact American consumers.

"It may be, frankly, a slight lack of understanding on how the tariff policy actually works. I think Kudlow has a little bit more accurate display of knowledge. The consumer does pay. It's highly inflationary," Jason Rotman, the business development director of Everplus Capital, told Cheddar. "In this case, a trade war is far from bullish, and I think the market's reaction today is, frankly, is completely justified."

Skancke adds that while companies will first feel the tariffs in their earnings, costs will be passed onto consumers. "It will be the Walmart supply chain that feeds Middle America where we're going to see higher prices as a result of these tariffs," he said. Early victims include the soybean farmers who have seen crop prices tumble to a ten-year low.

While the tariffs certainly spell trouble for investors, Rotman says the down market could be an opportunity to double-down on the utility sector. "The classic defensive sector is always going to be utilities," he said. "People are going to need utilities no matter what China is or isn't doing,"

Nonetheless, Rotman added "big picture, guys, this is not pretty."