On Tuesday, major stock indexes plummeted more than 3 percent on renewed fears of a trade war with China — just days after Trump tweeted, following a steak dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping, that “Relations with China have taken a BIG leap forward!”
“It doesn’t seem like anything was actually agreed to at the dinner,” JPMorgan wrote in a note to clients later that day, adding that Trump’s tweets “seem if not completely fabricated then grossly exaggerated.”
On one hand, traders have long known that President Trump’s bold pronouncements do not always hold, ultimately muting their effect on securities. On the other hand, market volatility has picked up in 2018, in part because of confusion over comments by Washington officials, making them harder to ignore.
“This situation certainly creates unnecessary volatility and complications to the investment process.”
It is not just Trump. Unexpected comments from White House officials such as Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and economic adviser Larry Kudlow have caused a stir with traders. Each man was cited by Reuters as a driver of market moves more than two dozen times.
Mnuchin sent the U.S. dollar to a three-year low in late January after comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos suggesting that a weaker currency was “good for us.” Within hours, Trump appeared to contradict him, saying he ultimately wanted a strong dollar, lifting the greenback.
As for Kudlow, on April 4 he told reporters that it was possible the U.S. tariffs on Chinese industrial products might never go into effect and may be simply a negotiating tactic. Stocks rose after the remarks, which an unnamed White House official later told Reuters were meant to reassure markets.
Yet equity futures fell the next day after Trump said in a statement that he had instructed U.S. trade officials to consider tariffs on an additional $100 billion worth of imports from China to punish them for retaliating against earlier announced tariffs.