“Trade wars are good, and easy to win.” So wrote Donald Trump in a tweet from March 2018, shortly before launching the first round of tariffs on goods from China. But, for all Mr Trump’s bravado, data paint an increasingly bleak picture of the trade war’s impact on the US economy.
The US manufacturing purchasing managers’ index has been below the 50-point mark separating contraction from expansion since August, while the official counterpart from China’s statistics bureau shows a smaller fall in manufacturing activity and far greater resilience over the long term.
“If the sentiment of manufacturers is any guide, the US is losing out more from the escalation of the trade war,” said Michael Metcalfe, global head of macro strategy at State Street Global Markets. “US manufacturing sentiment has collapsed in the past nine months, spectacularly so in the last quarter. Meanwhile, their Chinese counterparts, at least by the official measure, are no less cautious than they were at the beginning of the year.”
Moreover, the Caixin manufacturing PMI, which focuses more on smaller and private companies than the official gauge, recently shot back into positive territory to its highest level in two years.
Mr Metcalfe said the recent PMI data appeared to support the findings of a recent paper from Harvard University, the University of Chicago and the Boston Federal Reserve, which found that US importers had paid a heavy price for the trade war, based on data collected at the border and from retailers.
“If economic rationale was a key driver, the pressure to agree a trade truce soon is growing,” he said.