The US stock market continues its worryingly decline, possibly kicking off another round of sinking global markets — and President Donald Trump may be to blame.
On Thursday, the Dow Jones and S&P 500 — two barometers for how well the US stock market is doing — dropped by more than 2 percent. That followed Wall Street’s poor performance on Wednesday when those indexes fell by more than 3 percent overnight — one of the American stock market’s worst one-day downturns in months.
Jacob Kirkegaard, a global markets expert at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, told me there are three main reasons why the market nose-dived to its lowest level since February.
First, the US-China relationship is rapidly and dangerously deteriorating. Both sides are in the midst of a trade war in which America has placed about $200 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese goods. Beijing has responded in kind, making it much harder for US companies to sell in the Chinese market.
Last month, multiple sources told me Trump’s strategy is to cripple China’s economy after years of stealing intellectual property from American companies and challenging US power in the world. And on October 4, Vice President Mike Pence gave a speech where he said China was America’s biggest strategic competitor, leading some analysts to consider the address as the harbinger of a new Cold War.
Markets are skittish, and they react pretty negatively to bad news. It’s no surprise, then, that the US stock market has begun to drop as the world’s two biggest economies go at each other’s throats. Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping plan to meet each other during the G20 summit in November where they will surely discuss the trade spat and the broader relationship.
Second, the Federal Reserve — America’s central bank — is raising interest rates, making it more expensive for businesses and others to borrow money. It does this mostly to curb inflation, which can rise during high-borrowing periods, so the price of everything doesn’t skyrocket.
It’s possible that the higher rates could weaken economic growth and spark a recession in a few years, Kirkegaard told me. That may explain why Trump said on Wednesday that he thinks “the Fed has gone crazy,” using the nickname for the Federal Reserve. Trump’s comments may portend a future White House-Fed fight, which likely spooked the markets and contributed to the drop.
Finally, there’s a non-Trump reason: The technology companies most responsible for America’s stock market boom may soon face strict regulation.
Facebook, for example, is under increased scrutiny. Russian-linked operatives used the platform to spread false information during the 2016 presidential election, and a security breach revealed in September exposed the data of roughly 50 million users. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief, already testified in front of Congress to answer for some of his company’s woes, and it’s possible future legislation will regulate what Facebook can and can’t do.
Since the US stock market was already historically high, it was likely that these and other factors would lead to a precipitous drop. “It’s a correction that we’ve been waiting for for a long time,” Trump said on Wednesday.
Plus, market psychology is such that when a few people start selling off their assets in a panic, others do as well. “Everyone runs for the exit at the same time,” says Kirkegaard. “There’s a herd behavior.”
It’s possible the US market will bounce back. The problem is that it’s not looking too good elsewhere in the world, either.
“It’s pretty grim”
The US-China spat will likely negatively affect global markets for a long time.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF), a world body that helps to keep the global economy stable, released a major report on Tuesday that projected the world’s economy will grow by 3.7 percent, which is 0.2 points lower than they had estimated in April. That’s the same rate of growth as 2017, signaling a slight slowdown — and Trump’s trade policies are a major reason why.
“[T]he forecast for 2019 has been revised down due to recently announced trade measures, including the tariffs imposed on $200 billion of US imports from China,” the IMF’s “World Economic Outlook” report concluded.
But some foreign economies — particularly so-called emerging markets — are struggling on their own.
Pakistan and Argentina, for example, require the IMF’s assistance to get their economies back on track. Turkey and Iran, two important Middle Eastern economies, are plunging toward major recessions, at least in part because Trump placed sanctions on both countries this year. Brazil is also in economic turmoil, and it’s unclear if Jair Bolsonaro, a Trump-like figure and the frontrunner in the country’s presidential elections, can turn it around.
“In the world of emerging markets, it’s pretty grim,” Kirkegaard, the global markets expert, told me. Those problems could make it harder for the global economy to bounce back — and Trump is not making it any easier.