March 28, 2018 / 5:07 AM / 8 months ago

On China trade clash, Wall Street embraces Trump's poker face

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - To Wall Street money managers who make bets for a living, U.S. President Donald Trump’s aggressive stance against China on trade looks like a high-stakes poker hand - but they believe they can play it for all it’s worth.

FILE PHOTO: A labourer works on coils of steel wire at a steel wholesale market in Beijing, China, January 17, 2012. REUTERS/Soo Hoo Zheyang/File Photo

Fears that Trump could set off a trade conflict have roiled Wall Street since March 1, when the president announced plans to impose tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, risking retaliation from major trade partners like China, Europe and neighboring Canada.

It’s been a roller coaster ride, with markets slumping after Trump last Friday moved to impose up to $60 billion in tariffs on some Chinese imports and China declared plans to retaliate with duties of up to $3 billion of U.S. imports even as it urged the United States to “pull back from the brink.”

China’s willingness to negotiate spurred a rebound on Monday, though jitters in the tech sector drove markets back down on Tuesday.

Investors remain concerned about a trade war between the world’s two largest economies, but some big players are sanguine about their prospects to make money even as they try and dissect Trump’s strategy on trade.

The former celebrity businessman on March 2 tweeted, “trade wars are good, and easy to win,” shocking economists who cite evidence that trade wars in the past have been destructive to economies involved.

“Other administrations have gone to trading partners like China and asked for a fairer deal, only to get a cigar put out on their forehead,” said Steve Chiavarone, a portfolio manager at Federated Investors. “I suspect Trump’s bucking of norms is absolutely part of his negotiating tactics.”

Chiavarone and others said they remain confident the S&P 500 will rise significantly this year.

“So far you are talking about small amounts of tariffs in niche sectors,” said Phil Blancato, head of Ladenburg Thalmann Asset Management in New York. “For anyone who is looking for an opportunity to enter the market here at better valuations, this is it.”

THE ART OF THE DEAL

“He has shown himself to act aggressively, quickly and unilaterally, and that’s brought China to the negotiating table,” said Ben Phillips, chief investment officer of EventShares exchange traded funds. “I truly think they are worried about him taking unilateral action and harming China’s economy.”

Fears of a trade war, which could hurt U.S. multinationals and dull the benefits of deep corporate tax cuts enacted this year, have helped push the S&P 500 down nearly 4 percent since the end of February.

The Trump administration has demanded that China immediately cut its $375 billion trade surplus with the United States by $100 billion, a position seen by some as an opening tactic in a long negotiation.

China could respond to U.S. measures with a range of tariffs aimed at U.S. multinationals, or even farmers in rural regions who helped Trump win the 2016 presidential election.

Trump’s bellicose stance with U.S. trade partners reflects a negotiating style outlined in his 1987 book, “Trump: The Art of the Deal,” said Oliver Pursche, chief market strategist at Bruderman Asset Management in New York.

“You propose something horrific, and then when you pull back what you want is not as painful as feared,” Pursche said. “The problem is the other side isn’t dumb. Eventually, they’re going to figure that out.”

Reporting by Noel Randewich, additional reporting by April Joyner and Trevor Hunnicutt in New York; Editing by Alden Bentley

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