Why Trump Is Right On Tariffs

March 4, 9:00 pm EST

Stocks continue to swing around, and in wider ranges than we’ve seen in a while. We should expect this type of action following a sharp technical correction–a correction that shook many of the players out of the market, that were contributors to suppressing volatility in recent years (the short vol ETFs among them).

Now, as I’ve said in the past, people always search for a story to fit the price. Despite the fact that stocks have been swinging around, with little or no story for them to attribute, they were quick to pounce on Trump’s announcement about steel tariffs, and have since blamed every down tick in the stock market for it. And they’ve run wild with trade war scenarios. For those trying to capitalize on that fear scenario, it shows how uninformed, naive or intellectually dishonest they are (most the latter). They like to evaluate it as if there is no context or history.

Where have they all been the past 20-plus years?

China has been manipulating the global markets through their cheap currency policy for the better part of the past 25 years. In pinning down their currency, they cornered the world’s export market. And in the process, they emerged as the second largest economy in the world. They also accumulated the world’s largest reserve of foreign currencies, which they plowed into global credit markets (mainly our Treasurys) to fuel cheap credit, which ultimately led to the global credit bubble and bust (the global financial crisis). We buy their cheap stuff. They take our dollars and buy Treasurys, supplying more credit to us to buy more of their cheap stuff. And so the cycle goes.

Currencies are the natural balancing mechanism to prevent this bubble/global imbalance from forming. When freely traded in an open economy, the market demand for yuan, given the aggressive growth in the economy, would have driven the value of China’s currency higher, making its exports less attractive, and therefore slowing their breakneck growth and wealth accumulation in China, and its ability to fuel global credit. But of course, the government determines the value of the yuan, and keeping the currency cheap is part of the economic model in China (still).

For those that fear retaliation (a historic response to protectionism), this is retaliation… for 20 years of wealth transfer.

The tariff threats address metals, but the currency is a key tool that makes it all happen. For those that like to play it as a political football, Trump is not the architect of the plan. A staunch democratic Senator from New York, Charles Schumer, led the push in Congress for a bill in 2005 to impose a 35% tariff on China. That’s what ultimately led to the agreement by the Chinese to allow their currency to weaken (somewhat). With that, I want to revisit my note from late September 2016 (prior to the elections) for a little more backstory on Why Trump Is Right About China (read more here).

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