“We’re (still) not winning!!”
Last month, when Beijing reported trade data for August, China’s surplus with the U.S. clocked in at $31.1 billion. That’s was a record.
It makes no sense to talk about “winning” and “losing” in a trade war because with the possible exception of Peter Navarro and Donald Trump, everybody knows that nobody “wins” in a trade war.
As little sense as it makes to talk about “winning” and “losing” a trade war, it makes even less sense to define “winning” and “losing” strictly in terms of deficits and surpluses.
But if that’s what you want to do (and Trump has a penchant for couching everything in terms of deficits and surpluses), then the U.S. is still “losing” to China, because on Friday, Beijing reported yet another record surplus with America.
Now, the surplus is $34 billion, and that comes courtesy of what certainly looks like a mad dash to get out ahead of the tariffs.
As you can see, China’s exports managed to jump 14.5% in dollar terms last month, well ahead of expectations for an 8.2% gain. Imports rose 14.3% YoY, a shade below consensus.
Again, this likely isn’t sustainable and China’s customs administration said as much on Friday, noting that trade growth could decelerate in Q4. The latest read on the Caixin manufacturing PMI just barley dodged falling into contraction territory.
“We do not expect the strong sequential momentum in September to be maintained in coming months, given the moderation in global growth”, Goldman wrote on Friday, adding that “we believe [the] exports outlook will remain clouded by the US-China trade tensions.”
There’s also a sense in which these kind of numbers are just gasoline on the fire, as they give Trump yet another reason to ratchet up the inflammatory rhetoric and tilt at Chinese windmills ahead of the midterms.