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Trump’s China trade war threat already roiling markets

Among the wackiest things to come from Donald Trump’s mouth recently is the former US president trying to take credit for China’s US$7 trillion stock reckoning.

“I mean, look, the stock market almost crashed when it was announced that I won the Iowa primary in a record,” Trump told Fox News on February 11. “And then when I won New Hampshire, the stock market went down like crazy.”

In reality, China’s spectacular stock rout has been playing out since 2021, well after Joe Biden moved into the White House. But there is one investor crowd taking notice of the growing odds Asia might soon be grappling with a Trump 2.0 presidency: currency traders.

Trump’s threats to impose tariffs exceeding 60% on Chinese goods has the cost of hedging the yuan soaring to the highest levels since 2017.

In China, “the most frequently asked questions among local investors include implications for China should Donald Trump become the next US president,” says Goldman Sachs economist Maggie Wei after a series of recent meetings with mainland mutual funds, private equity funds and asset managers.

Even today, well before Trump might have a chance to shake up global trade anew, “the outlook for trade flows going forward is likely one of moderation,” says Rubeela Farooqi, economist at High Frequency Economics. The downshift is thanks to “expectations of slower demand and growth going forward, both domestically and abroad.”

The specter of a supersized trade war is the last thing the global economy needs as 2024 unfolds. Any added headwinds from the West would compound the domestic troubles that have knocked Chinese stocks sharply lower, namely a deepening property crisis, weak retail sales, sputtering manufacturing activity and deflationary forces.