Playing With Fire: The FX Implications Of US Trade Protection

US soft a and hard dataUS soft a and hard data

The so called Trump trades, and particularly the long USD trade, have seen a correction this year. Indeed, it started after President Trump’s first press conference after the elections, on 11 January, where he used strong rhetoric against US companies that invest abroad and then export to the US. BoAML believes that the market is still pricing a benign scenario, in which the new US administration delivers fiscal stimulus and deregulation, but does not go ahead with trade protection. Furthermore,the market remains long the USD, despite the recent adjustment. The VIX index is at historically low levels, despite its latest increase. Global equities remain at historical highs, even after its correction this week. EM FX has been somewhat volatile, but without a clear trend this year. If anything, our flows reflect some buying in EM FX.

This is consistent with BoAML baseline as well, but we do see risks.

We have been arguing that the balance between fiscal stimulus and trade protection in the first 100 days of the Trump administration will determine the outlook of the Trump trades and of the USD. We remain constructive on the USD, as we expect President Trump to deliver on fiscal policy and not turn to trade protection. However, even in this scenario, we do not expect a substantial further USD rally, as the USD is already strong and the US government would also push against an excessively strong USD. Moreover, we have been flagging high uncertainties, as we are increasingly concerned about the strong rhetoric against free trade and free FDI coming from the US. Our baseline expects a volatile USD path upward. USD bulls should be more tactical.

In this context, they discuss which of the G10 and major EM currencies could be at risk in a scenario where we are wrong and President Trump does what he has said on trade policy and increases protection. Of course, a lot would depend on the details and on how the rest of the world reacts in this case. This is a first and very basic approximation but one that can provide insights even for a scenario in which the US does not increase trade protection but markets get more concerned about such a risk.

“What-if” scenarios of trade protection

Global trade is already on a declining trend. Following an almost smooth upward trend in recent decades, the share of global trade to GDP is now below what it was 10 years ago (Chart 1). After a V-shaped move following the global crisis, it has been falling recently.

This is a concern, as empirical evidence suggests international trade and economic growth reinforce each other. A move toward trade protection in the US could lead to a further decline in global trade, making everyone worse off.

Focusing on US trade policies, trade protection would hurt Mexico and Canada the most. China and the Eurozone export more to the US (Chart 2). However, as a share of their GDP, Mexico and Canada stand out. Experts at BoAML believe MXN already reflects Trump policy risks, but they have been arguing that CAD underestimates such risks.

If they consider a very adverse scenario, in which protectionist trade policies in the US potentially trigger a global trade war, KRW, MXN and CAD could be affected the most.

Looking at openness to trade as defined by the share of total exports and imports to GDP, the countries most vulnerable to a potential pull-back of global trade include Hungary, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Korea, Poland, Sweden and the Euro zone (Chart 4). However, most of the European trade is intra-regional and it is safe to assume that protection within Europe will not increase—the region could still suffer if global supply chains get significantly disrupted. Excluding Europe, Mexico and Canada also stand out.

Looking at the FDI net inflows as a share to GDP, the countries that will be affected the most by a pull-back include Switzerland, the Euro zone, Hungary, Brazil, Australia, Canada and the Czech Republic (Chart 5).

Combining these two measures, this analysis will suggest negative risks for CAD, MXN and KRW, particularly against USD and JPY (Chart 6). HUF, CZK, CHF, PLN, and EUR could also be at risk if global protectionism affects European exporters—our CEE baseline is bullish, as these currencies are undervalued and will benefit from a hiking cycle.

These results are consistent with a recent analysis on risks from trade protection to the global value chain in Asia. The results had suggested that HKD, KRW, TWD, MYR and AUD would be the most vulnerable to protectionism being transmitted down value.

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Finally, considering an even worse scenario, in which trade protection triggers a repatriation of flows, Norway, Switzerland and Japan would receive most of it as a share of their GDP.These are the economies with the largest net international investment positions relative to GDP by far.

We would therefore expect NOK, CHF and JPY to appreciate in such a scenario, particularly against NZD, AUD, MXN and TRY.