President Donald Trump’s tweets struck as quickly as a scythe on Thursday and cut the legs out from not just a budding stock rally but several different markets.
Within seconds of the president saying on Twitter that he plans more tariffs on Chinese goods, prices for stocks, gold and even measures of investors’ optimism screeched in a simultaneous U-turn.
These new tariffs of 10% would go into effect on Sept. 1 and affect goods and services from China that haven’t already been hit with tariffs of 25%.
The fear is how much more Trump’s trade war with China, the world’s second-largest economy, will escalate. The new tariffs would more directly affect consumer goods — retailers such as Best Buy tanked Thursday afternoon. If the tariffs go up another step, to 25% on all Chinese imports, and remain on for four to six months, Morgan Stanley economists say they expect a recession within nine months.
Thursday marked the second straight day that markets made an immediate, 180-degree turn. On Wednesday, the trigger was investors’ disappointment in the Federal Reserve’s chairman, who didn’t commit in a press conference to as many future interest-rate cuts as investors had hoped for. But Thursday’s whiplash-inducing ride was even wilder. Among the day’s big moves:
— BROAD U.S. STOCK INDEXES: The S&P 500 index was up as much as 1.1% in the morning following encouraging profit reports from several big companies. But it took a nosedive following the tweets and was down as much as 1.2% before ending the day 0.9% lower.
— INVESTOR FEAR. One of the main ways to measure fear in the market is through an index that shows how much traders are paying for protection from upcoming swings in price for stocks. On Thursday morning, pre-tweets, the VIX index was down as much as 14.8%. Post-tweets: up as much as 20.7%.
— BANK STOCKS: Banks do well when they can lend money out at much higher interest rates than they’re paying for the cash they’re bringing in. But longer-term Treasury yields plunged Thursday as investors scrambled for safer investments, crimping banks’ potential profits. Bank of America went from being up 1.3% in the morning to being down as much as 4.3% after the tweets.
— EXPECTATIONS FOR MORE RATE CUTS: On Wednesday afternoon, after the Fed had cut interest rates for the first time in a decade, investors were nearly split on whether the central bank would follow up with another cut at its next meeting in September. Traders on Wednesday were pricing in a roughly 51% probability of a cut.
Post-tweets, those same traders said the probability had jumped to 70%. The escalating trade war threatens to make businesses and consumers more cautious in their spending, and the expectation is that the Fed will be forced to cut rates more deeply to protect the economy.
— RETAILER STOCKS: Shares of Best Buy, Gap and other retailers were some of the hardest hit on worries that higher prices for Chinese-made electronics and clothes will drag down their sales totals.
Kohl’s sank 7.8%, and Macy’s lost 6.7%.
— GOLD: When everything’s falling apart, investors often run for gold, thinking it’s the safest thing to own. Gold was down as much as 1.8% in the morning, but it jumped following Trump’s tweets and was up as much as 1.4% in the afternoon.
If Trump’s trade war does force the Fed into more rate cuts, it could lead to higher inflation, which is generally good for the price of gold.