After an initial wave of fear of tariffs washed over the executive suites of Corporate America, businesses are taking a much more sanguine view of the Trump Administration’s trade policies.
When the Trump administration first began announcing tariffs in the spring of 2018, many corporate leaders voiced concerns the tariffs would hurt their businesses, trigger layoffs, or drive up prices for consumers. Layoffs, however, have fallen to record lows and unemployment is very, very low. Consumer prices on most items subject to tariffs have not gone up and the overall price level has remained steady.
Not surprisingly, business leaders are no longer as worried about tariffs. A CNBC analysis of conference calls in which executives from S&P 500 companies discussed their third quarter results found that the number citing tariffs had fallen 12 percent, from 157 in the second quarter to 138. Even more strikingly, the number who cited the tariffs as a negative was just 9 percent.
Further analysis and reporting from CNBC:
At a sector level, industrials most frequently mentioned the issue, followed by tech, consumer discretionary and materials. Seven of the index’s 11 sectors saw a quarterly decline in the number of companies that used the term, while only two showed an increase.
“The small decline in the number and percentage of companies discussing tariffs in the third quarter relative to the second quarter may be a sign that there is slightly less concern in corporate America about widespread impacts from the tariffs throughout the economy,” wrote John Butters, senior earnings analyst at FactSet.
The decline in tariff fears is all the more notable because the third quarter, witnessed a dramatic uptick in tariffs. The steel and aluminum tariffs were imposed more broadly and the tariffs on Chinese goods expanded to $250 billion, with President Donald J. Trump threatening to tariff all goods imported from China later this year.
It appears the idea of tariffs was scarier for many American business leaders than the reality.