Growth Stocks Are on the Firing Line in the Trade War

Investors in U.S. growth stocks have been richly rewarded in recent years, but their fortunes are set to turn if President Donald Trump can’t resolve his trade disputes. 

Bloomberg News reported on Wednesday that China and the U.S. had wrapped up three days of trade talks and “expressed optimism that progress had been made.” For Trump, that’s a clear departure from his usual tough talk on trade.

That shouldn’t be surprising. As I pointed out recently, the president fancies himself a champion of American business and gauges his success by the level of the stock market. The market’s steep drop in December signaledthat the country’s biggest companies, which dominate market barometers such as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 Index, are under increasing stress. They generate much of their revenue overseas, so Trump’s trade disputes are an obvious concern.

If the president was hesitant to connect those dots, Kevin Hassett, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, was not. He told CNN last week that “There are a heck of a lot of U.S. companies that have sales in China that are going to be watching their earnings being downgraded next year until we get a deal with China.” That was a day after Apple Inc. cut its revenue outlook, blaming in part weaker demand in China.

But Trump’s trade policies don’t affect all companies equally. Growth companies, or those that are expected to grow faster than average, sell more of their products overseas than slower-growth value companies. That means they have more to gain from free trade and, of course, more to lose during a trade war.

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China Takes an Edge in Stocks to a Trade War

The saber-rattling for a U.S.-China trade war is becoming louder, and many observers are speculating about which country will blink first. One important variable will be the resilience of each country’s stock market, given the potential for mayhem from a melting market. So it’s worth asking which one is more likely to stand its ground.

There are several considerations, most prominently quality, free float and valuation. Let’s see how they stack up for each country.

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Trade War Would Cause Trouble on Home Front for U.S. Investors

President Donald Trump’s looming trade war is no friend of the U.S. stock market, and that’s bad news for U.S. investors who like to keep their money at home.

Free trade is under siege. The White House imposed $50 billion in tariffs on Chinese imports on Friday. China responded in kind. President Trump is now threatening up to $400 billion in additional tariffs, and China is vowing to retaliate again. Its Ministry of Commerce called for “comprehensive quantitative and qualitative measures” if the U.S. imposes additional tariffs.

The intensifying trade dispute should worry investors who are reluctant to venture overseas, and there are many of them. According to one estimate, U.S. investors, on average, allocate just 15 percent of their stocks to foreign markets. That’s a huge home bias given that the U.S. accounts for roughly half of global stocks by market value and a quarter of the world’s economic output.

Proponents of home bias argue that U.S. stocks provide plenty of exposure to foreign markets because large U.S. companies sell their wares all over the world. The percentage of S&P 500 sales from foreign countries was 43.2 percent in 2016, according to S&P’s most recent global sales report. That percentage has been reliably between 43 percent and 48 percent since 2006.

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