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Markets shrug with ‘Trump headline fatigue’

Stocks were poised to end the week about where they started on Monday

Gulf News

President Donald Trump fired a flurry of verbal broadsides against economic rivals on Friday, but US stock markets were indifferent.

“It’s Trump headline fatigue,” said Jeff DMaso, director of research at Adviser Investments, a Boston fund with $5.5 billion (Dh20 billion) under management. “It’s late in the week, it’s summer days, and people are just fatigued on a long week of headlines, whether it was Russia, tariffs and now the Fed.”

The president’s first volley Friday was fired against China. Trump threatened to place tariffs on every single dollar of the $505 billion in Chinese goods imported by the United States during an interview with CNBC recorded on Thursday and broadcast on “Squawk Box” Friday morning.

Trump then spun off a series of tweets accusing China and the European Union with manipulating their currencies. He also repeatedly poked the Federal Reserve on TV and Twitter, criticising the independent US central bank for raising interest rates.

“China, the European Union and others have been manipulating their currencies and interest rates lower, while the US is raising rates while the dollars gets stronger and stronger with each passing day — taking away our big competitive edge,” Trump complained in one tweet.

“As usual, not a level playing field,” he continued. “The United States should not be penalised because we are doing so well. Tightening now hurts all that we have done. The US should be allowed to recapture what was lost due to illegal currency manipulation and BAD Trade Deals. Debt coming due & we are raising rates — Really?”

Yet through it all markets traded happily along, staying close to the flatline and pretty much ignoring the president’s jawboning. Stocks were poised to end the week about where they started on Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite were all pretty much flatlining through Friday trading. The Dow was down 0.2 per cent to finish at 25,042. The S&P 500 dropped 0.2 per cent, and Nasdaq finished 0.1 per cent to the downside.

The dollar slid against the British pound and the euro after Trump’s comments on the Fed. Crude oil prices rose, and the closely watched 10-year US Treasury bond finished up at 2.896 per cent.

Market fundamentals

Part of the reason for the market’s relative calm has to do with corporate performance. Around 10 per cent of the S&P companies have reported earnings, and 95 per cent have beat estimates. The market fundamentals of strong earnings and a growing economy have been consistent.

The Dow was led by tech giant Microsoft, which was up more than 2 per cent after reporting quarterly profits on Thursday that beat estimates. The company for the first time reported annual sales above $100 billion. “Market behaviour over recent decades has taught us to ignore politics and political statements.” said Chris Brightman, chief investment officer of Research Affiliates, an institutional investor with more than $200 billion under management.

Trump’s threat to dramatically ramp up tariffs on China came during a lengthy interview with “Squawk Box” co-anchor Joe Kernen.” I’m ready to go to 500,” Trump said, referring to the dollar amount of Chinese imports to the United States last year, $505.5 billion.

Earlier this month, the United States levied tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods, prompting retaliation from China that has hit US farmers particularly hard, including in states that Trump won in the 2016 presidential election.

Trump already has approved levies on an additional $16 billion in Chinese products.

“Look, I’m not doing this for politics,” Trump said in the interview. “I’m doing this to do the right thing for our country. We have been ripped off by China for a long time.”

Tariff criticism

Asked about the prospect of a stock market plunge in response to larger-scale tariffs, Trump said: “Well, if it does, it does.”

Trump said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping maintain a good relationship despite the growing dispute over trade.

The president’s comments Friday echoed a threat he made while talking to reporters on Air Force One two weeks ago as the first round of tariffs took effect.

Trump’s tariff policy has drawn criticism from some prominent lawmakers, including some in his own party. Earlier this week, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, — a staunch Trump ally on many other issues — delivered a speech on the Senate floor threatening to move ahead with legislation that would rein in Trump’s trade authority.

Hatch took aim at tariffs imposed by Trump not only on China but also on US allies and partners in Europe, Canada and Mexico.

“If the administration continues forward with its misguided and reckless reliance on tariffs, I will work to advance trade legislation to curtail presidential trade authority,” Hatch said.

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