Popular Economics Weekly
Is the trade war hurting U.S. jobs? Yes, says Mauldin Economics’ Patrick Watson, among others. Watson uses US automakers as an example. Ford and GM estimate that the 25 percent steel and 10 percent aluminum tariffs will add $1 billion to their production costs just next year. What happens when they sell more vehicles overseas with such rising production costs?
“For GM and other auto manufacturers, the customers are increasingly foreign. In this year’s third quarter, GM sold 835,934 cars in China and 694,638 in the U.S. It built many of those directly in China and has every reason to make more there, with tariffs or not,” said Watson
Is globalization reversing itself? The recent rise in US Labor Productivity highlights the growing use of robots and other productivity-enhancing technologies American companies are investing in due, in part, to the 3.7 percent unemployment rate and resultant dearth of skilled workers. But there are other reasons
Robots level product costs, since they cost as much in China as in the US, which means China will produce more domestically to avoid rising tariffs, and so needs to import less from others, including the U.S.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported nonfarm business sector labor productivity increased 2.3 percent during the third quarter of 2018, as output increased 4.1 percent and hours worked increased 1.8 percent. Declining unit labor costs over the past 12 months are the reason productivity has increased at the same time as output. It is down to 0.9 percent for a 3 tenths decline from the first estimate. This reflects a 4 tenths downgrade in compensation to a growth rate of 3.1 percent.
This should also mean U.S. workers’ wages are rising, but the trade wars are in fact driving many of the better paying manufacturing jobs overseas. Robots are shortening the supply chain, in other words, which will only hasten the decline in the need for foreign products.
And we are already seeing the result of the tariff increases on Chinese goods; a surging trade deficit. The trade deficit rose in October to a 10-year high amid a record shortfall with China (due to drop in soybean purchases), keeping the U.S. on pace to record the largest annual gap in a decade, reports the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
The deficit edged up 1.7 percent to $55.5 billion from a revised $54.6 billion in September. That’s the biggest shortfall since October 2008, and ironically, it stems in part from tariffs imposed by President Trump in an effort to reduce the deficit.
We know part of the recent surge in imports reflects American companies stocking up on Chinese goods ahead of the holidays to get ahead of another increase in U.S. tariffs that were supposed to kick in on Jan. 1. But the U.S. tariff increase has been temporarily been postponed until March, per agreement with China at the recent G20 summit in Argentina.
Even the 90-day postponement is not helping the stock market, since nothing concrete was agreed on at the G20 meeting. But it is pushing interest rates lower, to levels not seen since the Great Recession. This will help consumer spending, but only if the Fed doesn’t raise their short-term rates further.
Harlan Green © 2018
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