President Trump has made it clear that he wants the stock market to rise and the trade deficit to fall, and that his policies will make that happen. But so far this year, Trump is getting the opposite result: The trade deficit is soaring while the market is careening down.
The U.S. trade deficit is at its highest level in a decade, the U.S. Commerce Department reported Thursday, and the trade deficit with China is at a record high. Trump’s trade war appears to be making the trade deficit worse as Americans continue to import a lot of foreign goods but have struggled to sell products like soybeans abroad.
Trump’s trade spat with China is also causing tremors on Wall Street. The stock market has had an especially ugly week, with the Dow Jones industrial average shedding close to 1,300 points (5 percent). The Dow and Standard & Poor’s 500, two of the most closely watched metrics of U.S. stock market performance, are now negative for the year.
“The stock market couldn’t be any more disapproving of the president and his economics team,” wrote Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG Union Bank in an email. “This administration has to tone down its war with the world, from European automakers to China importers, or this stock market will completely collapse and make a 2019 recession forecast a reality.”
The president has repeatedly pointed to the stock market’s rise as proof that his economic policies are working, but with all gains wiped out for 2018, he has turned to blaming others for the market’s spiral.
The last time he tweeted in praise of market gains was on Oct. 30, when he sought to remind people that “the stock market is up massively since the Election.” Since then, he has blamed Democrats and the Federal Reserve for the market declines. Investors agree that the Fed’s push to raise interest rates and make borrowing costs higher is part of the reason stocks are sliding, but they also point to Trump’s ongoing feud with China.
News broke Wednesday that the United States and Canada had arrested one of China’s top business officials from technology and electronics firm Huawei on Saturday, yet another rift between the two nations. The Chinese government has called it “despicable hooliganism.”
Trump has been putting hefty tariffs on a number of foreign products this year to try to encourage people to “buy American” and make more goods in the United States. But the strategy doesn’t appear to be working so far.
Soybean exports decreased by $800 billion in October and are down more than 40 percent from last year as China countered Trump’s tariffs with hefty taxes on U.S. agricultural products. While many economists expected the trade deficit would widen this fall, the numbers are even bigger than anticipated because of Trump’s trade war and the fact that the European and Chinese economies are weakening and were widely expected to go easy on purchases of U.S. goods.
This is “how to break the trade deficit by the Trump administration,” wrote Ian Shepherdson, chief economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a morning note to clients. “Pumping up domestic demand with fiscal easing and picking fights with trading partners does that.”
Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping negotiated a truce over the weekend not to put additional tariffs on each other’s country for 90 days, but there’s still a wide gap between what Trump wants and what the Chinese are willing to give. Trump claims Xi agreed to buy a lot more U.S. goods to shrink the trade deficit between the two countries and to lower tariffs on U.S. products, including autos. But the Chinese have yet to confirm those details, especially on cars.
The United States ran a $335 billion trade deficit with China last year.
A key part of Trump’s justification for launching the trade fight was to shrink the trade deficit, which he views as a sign the United States is “losing” to other nations. Most economists, however, do not view the trade deficit as a problem because Americans receive cheaper goods and foreign countries such as China use the money they make on trade to invest in U.S. companies and buy U.S. government debt.