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Felix Zulauf: U.S.-China Trade Conflict Likely To Get Worse Before Final Deal

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Financial Sense

By FS Staff

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Fears of a trade war are heating up, but the US may be in a strong position to make a deal. This time on FS Insider, we spoke with legendary fund manager Felix Zulauf, head of Zulauf Asset Management and Zulauf Consulting, as well as a previous longtime member of the Barron's Roundtable, to get his take on President Trump's trade strategy and what it will mean for markets.

Trump's Strategy Very Clear

Many international observers didn't know what to make of President Trump's approach at first, whether he was just shooting from the hip or attempting to satisfy his base, Swiss-based Zulauf stated, but it's become very clear now that Trump has a strategy and may end up being successful in his efforts.

That strategy, Zulauf said, is very simple: Trump wants to level the playing field on trade and reduce the US trade deficit.

"Of course, there are risks that this could break out in a real trade war," he said. "That's a problem. But I do believe that Trump has a fairly good chance to get a good deal before the midterm elections. His timing to really jump on the Chinese is really (strong), because China is in a delicate situation. I respect the Chinese government very highly... they were prepared for some trade problems, but probably not to the degree that has come up."

China Needs a Deal

The first $50 billion in tariffs the Chinese imposed were actually moderate, Zulauf stated. Trump doesn't want retaliation, but is instead trying to force a deal, and he's signaled that he's willing to escalate further to make his point.

This has put a lot of pressure on China, which was already slowing down. It has a big problem with private corporate sector debt, which has left these corporations in a funding crisis to the tune of about 20 percent of GDP.

(Source: China's debt time bomb?)

"There will be a point in the second half of this year when the Chinese authorities have to make up their mind whether they want to help support their currency or whether they want to support their economy," Zulauf said. "I expect the (Chinese) economy to slow down from over 6 percent to maybe a 3 or 4 percent, which for China is almost recession-like."

Trump Wants a Deal Before the Midterms

Ultimately, the Chinese will come to some sort of deal with the US, but the situation may look like it is escalating first, which would drive bearish sentiment in the markets.

On the other side of the equation, Trump likely has to strike a deal leading into the midterm elections to help solidify his political position. That means he has to increase the pressure between now and then.

"Before we get the good news, we will get bad news. This is happening against the backdrop of a declining and slowing world economy. The world economy is very split. We have the US economy, which is supported and accelerating due to the fiscal push, and we have virtually the rest of the world that all depend on China. And China slowing pulls everybody down."

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Cited by Barron's as one of the top financial websites to visit on the weekend, Financial Sense (www.financialsense.com) provides educational resources to the broad public audience through a daily podcast, editorials, current news and resource links on salient financial market issues. Begun in 1985 as a local talk radio program, Financial Sense Newshour (www.financialsense.com/financial-sense-newshour) is a weekly webcast with host Jim Puplava and top financial thinkers. Writing staff of Financial Sense includes: Jim Puplava, Chris Puplava, Ryan Puplava, and Cris Sheridan.

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Comments (10)

weblogicx profile picture
Trump needs to show Chinese trade concessions to help Trump Republicans win, Chinese ain't going to give him that. They will not escalate but neither they will concede. Last thing Chinese want is more Trump like Republicans in Congress. I don't think Trump is going anywhere fast on trade with anyone.
jprizzuto profile picture
@dumblogic, the u.s. is waving a big green flag- a trade deficit of about $700 billion to spread all around this wonderful world. one by one, countries will renegotiate trade agmts with the u.s. so they can secure a piece of that insatiable appetite to consume. my guess is mexico, not being burdened by the label of proud nation, will be the first to do a deal. they will reap huge benefits. other countries will soon follow. sadly, china, with its large and selfish trade surplus, will lose the most.
weblogicx profile picture
Mexico has a new incoming president, care takers don't do trade deals. Dream on.
jprizzuto profile picture
a few months? so what!
ur logic is getting dumber.
probably better off not responding.
weblogicx profile picture
Look at all the NAFTA and other trade pacts, they all take years and years to negotiate.
I can't imagine Trump getting a "real" deal anytime soon. He could declare "victory" on a few empty Chinese promise though. When the US stock market tanks, that's exactly what he will do.
For every trade complaint we have, we have a subsidized industry or crop insurance program to match, so even if "being fair" counted for sh!t in this world, it wouldn't work.
China also has the stronger economy and a massive budget surplus. They can keep funding internal efficiency projects for decades, all of which show productivity gains (high-speed rail, modernized nuclear reactors, solar, EV's, electrification of mass transit, shift away from coal (much imported) and oil).
If they fold, it's because of a lack of resolve, not resources.
Hard to see a "plan" in Trump's badgering of allies like Canada and EU also. He may want MORE exported from U.S., but before we can FAIRLY compete with the global economy we need to make our own systems more efficient. Health care and transportation are huge drags on our economy that will likely NOT be addressed by Trump's very donor-oriented administration.
jprizzuto profile picture
to wit: trumps biggest battle is domestic; either (a) trying to educate the many dumb citizens of america who have been force fed political garbage all their lives such as - 'unfair trade is acceptable and there's nothing we an do about it'; or (b) the freedom of the press in america that permits foreign citizens probably from china who blog under pseudonyms like ubernerd or uberstupid on american websites with endless arguments about what is wrong with america. meanwhile china censors distribution of all media in its country regardless of domestic or foreign to promote nothing other then communist party agenda. duh, who should i believe.
jprizzuto profile picture
change is difficult. often things get worst before they get better. FAIR, open and balanced international trade is exactly what the u.s. economy needs to keep this expansion cycle growing but will also result in stronger, more productive, more efficient global economy. change is coming...
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