Politics: Trump’s trade war with China is starting to get nasty for US companies

President Donald Trump & tariffs on Chinese goods are starting to take a toll on US businesses, new surveys from the Federal Reserve and Markit showed broad price pressures while individual firms from Tesla to 3M are expecting millions in new costs.

  • President Donald Trump’s full-on trade war with China has dragged on for nearly four month,s and American businesses are starting to really feel the pain.
  • Surveys from Markit and the Federal Reserve showed increasing costs for businesses that are in some cases being passed on to consumers due to Trump’s tariffs.
  • Additionally, major companies like Tesla, 3M, Ford, and Harley-Davidson are feeling the burn and expect millions of dollars in costs from the tariffs.

As President Donald Trump’s trade war with China drags on with no end in sight, US businesses are starting to take hits from the escalating tariff attacks.

Companies’ earlier worries are starting to translate into actual pain as new orders coming in from China are faced with the higher duties the Trump administration has imposed.

Surveys from the Federal Reserve and market research firms released Wednesday showed widespread worries about the tariffs, while individual companies have started to tabulate the tens of millions of dollars in new costs that they will incur from the tariffs.

Surveys look messy

While previous months’ surveys exposed worries about soon-to-come cost increases from the tariffs, new data seems to show that businesses are now facing that reality.

The Federal Reserve’s Beige Book — a collection of perspectives from the Fed’s 12 district banks — showed widespread concern with the mounting trade war’s effects. The word “tariff” appeared 51 times in Wednesday’s edition of the Beige Book, up from 41 in September’s version and 31 in July’s release.

Concerns over the tariffs boiled down to a few issues:

  • First, businesses were concerned that goods coming into the US from other countries were more expensive.
  • Many of those goods were used in products sold by these American companies to consumers, so the increased import prices prompted a boost in costs for firms and an increase in prices for consumers.
  • Second, the retaliatory tariffs made it harder for businesses to sell goods to markets like China and Canada.
  • In turn, the build up in US supply for those goods subject to tariffs abroad — notably farm goods like pork and soybeans — caused prices to sink in the US and businesses to receive less for their products.

Here’s a few examples of those concerns from the Fed’s Beige Book (emphasis added):

  • Boston Fed: “Also, three manufacturing firms faced higher input prices due to tariffs on Chinese goods and services that were not readily substitutable, and the firms expected to pass on (or had already passed on) to consumers at least some of the tariff burdens.”
  • Philadelphia Fed: “Other firms reported difficulty meeting the prices of foreign competitors who are not exposed to tariffs on the primary input commodities of their products.”
  • Cleveland Fed: “The majority of contacts attributed at least some of these increases to import tariffs. One trucking contact noted that prices for pallet jacks, tires, and packaging material were higher because of the tariffs.”
  • Chicago Fed: “Contacts reported a notable drop in Chinese purchases of US soybeansfollowing an increase in Chinese tariffs.”
  • Dallas Fed: “Among manufacturers, roughly 60 percent of contacts said the tariffs announced and/or implemented this year have resulted in increased input costs. The share was even higher among retailers, at 70 percent.”

In addition to the Fed’s survey, Markit’s purchasing manager index released Wednesday reported the largest jump in input cost inflation since September 2013 due in large part to the tariff costs. Chris Williamson, the chief market economist at IHS Markit, pointed out a number of other recent highs set due to the tariff costs.

“Tariffs also drove a further marked rise in prices, exacerbating an upward trend in price pressures borne out of robust domestic demand,” Williamson wrote. “Average prices charged for goods rose at one of the fastest rates seen over the past seven years while average charges for services showed the second-largest rise since the global financial crisis.”

Business are starting to feel the burn

Business concerns aren’t limited to general surveys: Many large corporations expressed concerns about the rising tide of the trade war in their recent quarterly earnings calls.

Those same corporations are already estimating the tariffs’ effects, and for some firms, the costs could exceed $100 million a year.

Auto manufacturers, retailers, and home goods makers all weighed in on the downside of the tariffs. Here are a few examples:

  • 3M (consumer goods manufacturer): If I fast forward a little into 2019, we think tariffs will be having a negative impact on our total sourcing cost… And I’ll talk more about this in on November 15th but our view is we have approximately $100 million headwind from tariffs,” CFO Nick Gangestad said Tuesday.
  • Tesla (automaker): The company said Wednesday in its earnings release that the China tariffs will cost $50 million in the fourth quarter alone.
  • Harley-Davidson (motorcycle manufacturer): “In total, we now expect to incur approximately $43 million to $48 million of increased costs related to tariffs during 2018,” CFO John Olin said Tuesday.
  • Ford (automaker): “From Ford’s perspective the metals tariffs took about $1 billion in profit from us,” Hackett said. “The irony of which is we source most of that in the US today anyway. If it goes on any longer, it will do more damage.”
  • Sleep Number (mattress and bed manufacturer): The latest tariff rate hikes affect about 5% to 6% of our overall [cost of goods sold],” CFO David Callen said. “We are working with our global sourcing providers to mitigate the potential for 40 basis points to 60 basis points of margin rate pressures arising from this fast changing tariff landscape.”
  • Polaris (Motorcycle, ATV, vehicle manufacturer): “As I mentioned earlier, these efforts have largely been effective so far allowing us to hold our 2018 gross tariff impact to the previous communicated $40 million… Through recent discussion and analysis, we now believe it is unlikely there will be a short-or medium-term agreement with China on trade issues, and with substantial impact of the 301 list looming, we are considering and taking more aggressive action,” CEO Scott Wine said.
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