Doomsday Market Predictions Over Trump Tariffs Are Likely Overblown

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Robert Donachie Capitol Hill and Health Care Reporter
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The morning after President Donald Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the presidency, financial experts predicted the stock market would tank, sending not just the U.S. but the world into a recession the likes of which we would never recover from. But that hasn’t happened.

The prediction, however, hasn’t stopped the same experts from making similar doomsday forecasts in response to Trump’s idea of levying taxes on steel and aluminum imports.

Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman wrote an op-ed in The New York Times the morning after the election in which he predicted a total market collapse in response to Trump’s victory. Krugman believed things would get so bad, there may not be a bottom, describing a scenario of perpetual global recession.

“It really does now look like President Donald J. Trump, and markets are plunging. When might we expect them to recover?” Krugman wrote in his post. “If the question is when markets will recover, a first-pass answer is never…We are very probably looking at a global recession, with no end in sight”

Krugman could not have been more wrong. Not even 24 hours after he published his op-ed, the Dow Jones industrial average surpassed its all-time intraday trading high. The Dow closed at 18,332.74 on Election Day and opened Monday morning at 25,335, a roughly 7,000-point increase in under two years. The S&P 500 and NASDAQ indexes are both up in the double-digit percentages, respectively, since Election Day 2016.

Trump announced March 1 his plans to impose a 25 percent tariff on steel imports and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports. The administration has since exempted Canada, Mexico and Australia. Canada and Mexico’s exemptions are under the condition that they are willing to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

Almost breathlessly, experts and pundits came down hard against the president’s announcement, predicting massive domestic job losses, capital flight and an increasing trade deficit.

“Mr. Trump will raise the cost of doing business in steel- and aluminum-consuming companies. In turn, it will make life much harder for the 6.5 million workers those industries employ. Many will lose their jobs — possibly more than the 170,000 workers currently employed in the steel and aluminum producing industries,” Veronique de Rugy, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, wrote in a New York Times op-ed shortly after the tariff announcement.

Other arguments being thrown around against levying tariffs include losses in retirement accounts, higher inflation and increased economic uncertainty.

Capital flight and higher prices could very well be long term effects of imposing tariffs, if the administration decides to follow through with its plan. But those would take time to realize.

It follows that increasing the price of steel and aluminum inputs, which are intermediary, not final goods, would increase the price American consumers pay at the checkout counter for products containing those metals. Other outcomes could very well be a “trade war,” like the European Union is already threatening to spark, proposing to impose their own tariffs on U.S.-made goods or greatly curb investment in U.S. businesses if the administration pulls the trigger.

In the short-term, investors don’t appear to be as concerned as think-tank experts, conservatives, free-trade libertarians and pundits who oppose almost anything the president puts forth.

Stock futures took an immediate hit after the March 1 announcement, but the market has since then rallied substantially. The Dow went from 24,608.98 on Mar. 1 to 25,376 at the closing bell Friday. The benchmark index did take a sizable hit Monday, trading down over 135 points as of 11:17 a.m. as the administration continues to negotiate tariff exemptions and the Senate discusses rolling back Dodd Frank banking regulations this week.

Likewise, the S&P 500 gained 100 points and the NASDAQ gained nearly 500 points during the same timeframe.

Only time will tell if the market will lose its gains from the “Trump bump,” but, at least for now, dire predictions seem far removed from reality.


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