Monday, May 27, 2019

From a trade war to a cold war?

This is the second part of a two part series on the unusual market pattern that we have been undergoing (see part one, Peak fear or Cold War 2.0). While the market may have discounted a substantial amount of the first-order effects of a trade war, the tail-risk of the loss of business confidence in a full-blown trade war is difficult to measure. In addition, the US and China may be on the verge of Cold War 2.0, which would disrupt and bifurcate technology platforms and supply chains.

Cold War 2.0?
The Economist recently devoted a special report to how a trade war is becoming a Cold War 2.0:
Fighting over trade is not the half of it. The United States and China are contesting every domain, from semiconductors to submarines and from blockbuster films to lunar exploration. The two superpowers used to seek a win-win world. Today winning seems to involve the other lot’s defeat—a collapse that permanently subordinates China to the American order; or a humbled America that retreats from the western Pacific. It is a new kind of cold war that could leave no winners at all.
This development was not a surprise. I had warned about the risk of a Cold War 2.0 in January 2018 when the US unveiled its National Security Strategy that defined China as a "strategic competitor" (see Sleepwalking towards a possible trade war). In retrospect, that publication of the NSS document was probably as historically important as Winston Churchill's "iron curtain" speech in 1946 that marked the start of the Cold War with the Soviet Union.

Viewed in that context, these trade talks represent only an initial skirmish in a globalized competition between two political and economic systems. While my base case scenario calls for a brief truce to be achieved probably in late 2019, the onset of Cold War 2.0 represents a tectonic shift in global trade and investment flows that will have multi-decade long investment implications.

The full post can be found here.

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