The Dow remained little changed on Wednesday after notching its second straight record close yesterday.
Stock market bulls remain hopeful that the “Santa Claus rally” is about to drive equities toward even loftier heights to close the decade. But the looming prospect of the Trump administration’s next trade war will force investors to grapple with more downside risks.
Wall Street’s three major indices basked in their recently-secured record highs, but US stocks displayed little motivation to plow deeper into uncharted territory on Wednesday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 25.04 points or 0.09% higher, and the bellwether index last traded at 28,292.2.
The S&P 500 advanced 4.24 points or 0.13% to 3,196.76, and the Nasdaq climbed 15.96 points or 0.18% to 8,839.32 to round out a quiet day on Wall Street.
The gold price ticked 0.18% lower, while the oil price sank 0.71% to about $60.50.
The ink on the US-China trade deal isn’t even dry (in truth, the paper probably hasn’t even been printed yet since the signing ceremony won’t take place until January), but the Trump administration is already preparing to load its next trade war torpedo.
Emboldened after securing trade agreements on two continents – Asia and North America – the White House plans to target a third in 2020: Europe.
“We have a very unbalanced relationship with Europe,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told Fox Business Network. “There are a lot of barriers to trade there and there are a lot of other problems that we have to address.”
President Donald Trump has threatened the European Union and its member nations with tariffs before, but those warnings felt somewhat vacuous while his attentions were fixated on China. Now that the US-China trade war has at least been put on hold, he can pursue his scruples with the EU more aggressively.
Already, the World Trade Organization (WTO) has authorized the US to impose tariffs on EU exports in retaliation for illegal subsidies it gave to Airbus, a rival of US aerospace giant (and Dow Jones component) Boeing. Next year, the WTO is expected to authorize European trade officials to impose similar tariffs on the US, which supported Boeing with illegal subsidies of its own.
The two economic superpowers have all the ingredients for a trade war cocktail. The question is whether they’ll serve the bitter mixture or strike a deal in the interim to avert a full-on tariff conflict.
And if that doesn’t present investors with enough downside risk to consider, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro says he’s focused on another US trading partner – India, which he calls the “maharajah of tariffs.”
“I like to joke, India is the maharajah of tariffs,” Navarro said in his own interview on Fox Business. “They literally have the highest tariffs in the world of any large country.”
Potential trade conflicts with the European Union and India may burden the Dow with medium-term risk, but stock market bulls remain preoccupied with the equities gains they believe can still be achieved this year.
Ryan Detrick, a senior market strategist at LPL Financial, notes that although December has already been bullish for stocks, the bulk of its gains have historically come during the latter half of the month.
December has been a good month so far, but can it continue? Turns out, the majority of December’s gains have tended to happen in the second half of the month—so we still have time to believe in Santa.
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Last modified: January 22, 2020 11:40 PM UTC