At the moment, it’s a war of words with a side order of sabre-rattling. But as tensions between the US and its overseas rivals rise, the President’s crusade to make what he sees as a long-overdue ‘correction’ to the country’s trade deficit is beginning to have unintended consequences in America’s – and his own – heartland.
Since he took office, President Trump has been committed to the idea of righting the wrongs he believes have been perpetrated by trading partners looking to make gains at the expense of US interests. After dabbling with tariffs on solar panels and washing machines, a new set of curbs on steel and aluminum imports was introduced in spring of this year, swiftly followed by import duties designed to target billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese imports.
But, while China may have borne the brunt of the action, America’s traditional allies certainly haven’t escaped scot-free. Initially exempting Canada, Mexico and the EU from the steel and aluminium tariffs, Washington later confirmed that it would impose the duties across the board – special relationships notwithstanding.
Alibaba spin-off Ant Financial is making history. The four-year-old Hangzhou-based fintech ‘lifestyle platform’ is purported to be raising funds that would value the company at $150bn, making it the world’s most valuable startup – bigger, even than Goldman Sachs.
As traditional financial models are giving way to digital disruptors, there’s plenty of scope for agile, tech-based companies to change the way people think about banking services. Enter Ant Financial, the brainchild of Alibaba founder Jack Ma.
Established in 2014, the company is a hybrid internet business, bank and payment platform that evolved from a payment service (AliPay) originally conceived to bridge the gap between shoppers and sellers on Alibaba’s Taobao marketplace. At Ant’s last funding round in 2016, the company commanded a valuation of around $60bn.
While many presidential promises evaporate on entering the Oval Office, Trump has certainly proved to be a man of his word when it comes to honouring his campaign trail commitment to pursuing a more protectionist trade policy.
Within just a few days of acceding to the presidency, Trump drove a truck through the emerging Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and agreed to take a fresh look at the North America Trade Agreement (NAFTA) to try to squeeze a better result for the United States. Next, hot on the heels of his announcement of the imposition of tariffs on solar panels and washing machines, a new set of curbs on steel and aluminum imports was introduced. Most recently, Trump has announced the introduction of a wider swathe of tariffs that will slap a 25% tax on an as-yet-unspecified $60 billion-worth of Chinese imports.
Recovery is slowing
New figures released by the Commerce Department show that the US economy slowed to a virtual halt in the final three months of 2015, its annual rate rising at just 0.7% amid signs of a global economic slowdown. Consumers and businesses alike scaled back their spending and US exports were reduced. The lower-than-expected rate is likely to fuel concern that gains made over the last six years are now losing ground.
A shaky start to 2016
Less than a month into the New Year and global markets have already experienced something of a rollercoaster ride. Investors returning to work after the Christmas break were brought up sharply as markets in Europe and the US endured some of their steepest losses for decades, sparked largely by fears over the continuing rout of the Chinese economy where sluggish manufacturing figures and the free-falling yuan triggered the ‘circuit breakers’ that resulted in trading being temporarily suspended. Many markets seem to be edging dangerously close to ‘bear’ territory – indicating a fall of 20% or more from their most recent peak.
All systems go
With businesses poised for news of an interest rate rise this month, the world’s economy seems to be pulling in two directions. A gentle nudge from 0.25% to 0.5% may not seem like a major move for the Federal Reserve but it’s a move that would have sparked anxiety a year or so ago and will mark the transition towards a more optimistic outlook in the US.