Wall Street Keeps Cool As Tariff Threat Grows

September 19, 2018

Wall Street has done a great job tuning out a tariff war that has grown every bit as menacing as Smoot-Hawley must have seemed in 1929. Admittedly, even Rick’s Picks at its most dour assumed just a few short months ago that everything would turn out hunky-dory.  Clearly that has not been the case, at least not so far, and the prospect of China capitulating at the eleventh hour appears to be dimming. Perhaps Monday’s mild weakness in the broad averages -- blithely retraced and then some on Tuesday -- was caused by a few sensible traders tiptoeing toward the fire escape? If so, they are going to miss one heckuva a rally should the Chinese finally come around.

That statement implies the outcome is still a straddle bet, although premium sellers who are handicapping it could raise the ante to near-infinity before most traders get their trousers on one newsworthy morning. Trump’s latest levy on Chinese goods amounts to $200 billion, and he’s threatening hundreds of billions more. The numbers are so big that most us have lost track.  This is a very dangerous game, and investors should not be comforted by the fact that, as of midnight Monday, the smart money had not lost its cool. But if Trump should accidentally create his own perfect storm, tipping the economy and Congress the “wrong” way more or less simultaneously over the next six weeks, the Dow will shed 10,000 points so fast that no one will escape. It’s still not too late to join those tiptoers.

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