Will Trump Prove The Trade Critics Wrong?

 

 

By Bryan Rich 

January 23, 2017, 4:30pm EST

The new President Trump has wasted no time on carrying out his plan on trade.  He met with 12 major U.S. company leaders today and told them that they would pay to build outside of the U.S., but (importantly) they would save to build here.  And he wrote an executive order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and one to renegotiate NAFTA.

There are plenty of people that have focused on the risks and the dangers with the Trump trade policies. Meanwhile, those most directly affected aren’t quite as draconian on the outlook — quite the opposite.  The executives that have walked out of Trump Tower, and now the White House have largely been optimistic. The same is said for trade partners.  Whether they mean it or not, they understand the value of doing business with the U.S. consumer.

As I’ve said, there are clear opportunities for win-wins – especially in a world that must rebalance trade to avoid more cycles of the booms and busts, like the boom-bust we experienced over the past two decades.  The administration has the leverage of power (with a Republican Congress), but they also have the leverage of rewards.  Despite what the media tells us, behind closed doors the new administration seems to negotiate by carrot rather than stick.  Trump comes to meetings bearing gifts, and that creates buy-in.

When you bring American CEOs in and tell them that you’re going to give them a 20 percentage point tax cut, you’re going to slash the regulation burden (by “75%” as he said today), you’re going to give them a 30+ percentage point tax cut on repatriating offshore money,  and your going to launch a trillion dollar infrastructure spend, all in an effort to juice the economy to a 4%+ growth rate, they’re going to be very excited — even if you tell them they can no longer access the cheapest production in the world.

In the end, they’d rather have a hot economy to sell into, than a stagnant economy, even if it comes with a higher cost of production.  And we may find that, in the end, the after-tax profit margins of these big U.S. corporates may be better given all of these incentives, even if they make things here. Better revenues, and maybe better margins to go with it.

Remember, the optimism of U.S. small business owners made the biggest jump since 1980 on the prospects of growth-friendly Trump policies.   GDP equals Consumption + Investment + Government Spending + Net Exports. Ultra easy monetary policies have made borrowing cheap, saving expensive and created the economic stability necessary to get hiring over the past several years.  That has all kept consumption going.

The “build it here” policies are a recipe for capital investment to finally ramp up.  Add to that, a big government infrastructure spend, and we’re getting the pieces of the puzzle in place to see much better economic growth. A hotter U.S. economy will mean a hotter global economy. With that, I suspect net exports will ultimately pick up as well, with a healthier, more sustainable global economy.

On that note, if we look at the USD/Mexican Peso exchange rate as a gauge of trade partner health, we’ve seen the peso hit hard through the campaigning period under the protectionist fears of a Trump administration.  Interestingly, since the inauguration, the peso has been strengthening, even as President Trump signed an executive order today to renegotiate NAFTA. The message behind that usually means: the U.S. does better, Mexico does better.

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