Blog - Views on the Economy and the World

Views on the Economy and the World

A blog by Jeffrey Frankel

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19 posts

After NAFTA

| Oct. 12, 2018

Donald Trump thinks he once again pulled off a smashing victory on October 1, delivering on his oft-repeated campaign promise to terminate NAFTA, “the worst trade deal ever,“ and replace it with something much newer and better.  One is tempted to say to oneself, “Let him think that.”  The US-Mexico-Canada Agreement may not be an improvement over the status quo, but at least it is an improvement over the end to free trade in North America which he had threatened.

Democrats are gearing up for the November mid-term elections, in which they hope to take back the US House of Representatives. Candidates are finding that the voters are not necessarily paying close attention to foreign affairs or even Trump scandals, and are more concerned about “pocketbook issues.” The conventional wisdom still stands: underlying the shock election of Mr Trump was the worry by the median household that it has been left behindby globalization and technological change and that the gains have been going to the rich instead.

President Trump enacted steel and aluminum tariffs in March, citing national security.  China is the intended target, as most other major suppliers were eventually exempted. On April 2, China retaliated by imposing tariffs on 128 American products (representing about $3 billion of trade), ranging from 15% on fruits to 25% on pork.  Trump April 3 announced 25% tariffs on another 1300 Chinese products [representing some $50 billion of trade], citing forced transfer of US technology and IPR. China on April 4 responded with plans for retaliatory 25% tariffs on 106 US exports -- including soybeans, autos, and airplanes -- to go into effect when the US tariffs do.  On April 5, the White House announced it was considering $100 billion of additional tariffs on China.

If these tariffs go ahead, yes, it is a trade war. How will it end?

I am honored that John Bogle has commented on my recent column,  "The February Stock Market Correction." In it I repeated my claim that 2017 saw a “bubble” in the #VIX – i.e., a market perception of low risk in US stocks that was unjustified by fundamentals – and I added that the bubble had burst in February. Bogle of course is the genius who made low-cost index #mutualfunds widely available. His comment & my reply are at Barron’s: “Bogle on Bubbles”.

Much has been written about the stock market correction in the time since the US market peaked on January 26 and abruptly fell 10 % (as of February 8, followed by a partial bounce-back). Some of what is said is useful, some is not. Three pronouncements concern advice to investors, the role of machines, and the connection to the real economy.