The House China tariff bill faces opposition in the Senate and from the Obama administration and isn't expected to become law. Let's hope that reluctance continues to hold: This bill is little more than a political con job and is quite possibly the stupidest thing that Washington could do right now.
Not only will this touch off a war the United States literally cannot afford to fight, but it's going to hamstring millions of already cash tight Americans by raising the cost of living dramatically while further eviscerating our already fragile gross domestic product (GDP).
Let me show you why...
Exports rose 34.4% in August and imports climbed a greater-than-expected 35.2%, leaving the country with a $20.03 billion surplus, a customs bureau report showed Friday.
But a sustained trade gap with the United States could embolden American lawmakers who are pushing to penalize China for what they consider unfair trade practices.
The U.S. trade deficit narrowed by 14% to $42.78 billion from a downwardly revised $49.76 billion the month before, the Commerce Department reported yesterday (Thursday).
U.S. exports expanded 1.8% to $153.33 billion - the highest level since August 2008 - from $150.57 billion in June. Imports registered their biggest decline since February of last year, falling 2.1% to $196.11 billion from $200.33 billion in June.
Having grown up on a working farm in Oregon, I understand this all too well. Those days taught me a lot about hard work and patience. Four decades later, as I read news stories about the current travails of Russian wheat farmers, the memories of getting up on wet winter mornings for the pre-dawn goat milking - or having to drive a tractor when I was only six years old - engender a lot of empathy for the difficult challenges the wheat farmers face.
Wild fires are racing through unharvested wheat fields, the result of a Russian heat wave that has destroyed more than one-fifth of that country's wheat crop. In addition to causing the farmers considerable pain, the crop losses have caused wheat prices to double this summer.
This has spawned an export ban in Russia, which effectively removes the third-largest exporter in the world from the market. It's also created a major profit opportunity for U.S. investors.
Let me explain.
Wheat rose to a 23-month high after Russia, the world's third-largest grower, announced a ban beginning Aug.15 that will last through the end of the year. Corn and rice prices also surged yesterday after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said a ban on those grains would be "appropriate" in light of skyrocketing prices.
Domestic grain prices gained 19% last week, faster than at the peak of the global food crisis in 2008. The ban includes wheat, barley, rye, corn and flour exports, according to the government decree that also set aside nearly $1.2 billion for stricken farmers.
But the fact is that while most of the world was struggling to keep the engine of economic recovery from sputtering to a halt, China spent the first half of 2010 with its foot on the brake. And now that the Red Dragon has reigned in growth, the second half of 2010 will likely look very different from the first.
Money Morning Chief Investment Strategist Keith Fitz-Gerald says nearly everyone felt the first quarter's 11.9% growth in Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) was "too hot." But the 10.3% growth China saw in the second quarter will likely be topped in the second half.
The reasons for that are simple:
- Exports remain strong.
- Chinese stocks are oversold.
- China's property market isn't the ticking time bomb many analysts believe it is.
- And policies implemented to cool growth in the first half of the year will likely be relaxed in the next six months.
China's official export numbers will be reported tomorrow (Thursday) as part of broader trade data, but had been expected to rise 32% year-over-year after recording 30.5% growth in April.
Chinese economic figures are often leaked widely in markets and government circles ahead of their official release, and are sometimes subject to last-minute revisions.
"All ministers agreed and supported that we continue our efforts to achieve indexing gas to oil," said Russian Energy Minister Sergei Shmatko.
The Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF) members include Russia, Iran, Qatar and eight other nations that hold two-thirds of the world 's gas reserves. They 've watched gas prices fall nearly 50% in the past two years. Current gas prices of $4 per million British thermal unit (BTU) are about 20 times lower than oil, but are usually around 10 times lower than oil.
U.S. natural gas prices have fallen 28% since December as an increase in the U.S. shale rock gas supply has reduced the need for U.S. natural gas imports. Shale rock gas is retrieved from tight rock formations and its U.S. boom led the country to extract more gas than Russia last year for the first time since 2001.
Russia 's energy giant Gazprom has a five-year plan to take 10% of the U.S. natural gas market share, but U.S. shale gas exploration has put a damper on that goal.
"The influence of shale gas raises the prospect of change on gas markets," Russian Natural Resources Minister Yuri Trutnev told Reuters. "We have a problem with shale gas. This is not only my position, but the position of Gazprom as well."
As the United States becomes a less reliable consumer, gas suppliers aren 't having much luck replacing the lost business.
Indeed, China's appetite for commodities makes Indonesia - with its close proximity and abundance of natural resources - an ideal partner.
PetroChina Co. Ltd. (NYSE ADR: PTR), Sinopec, Sinosteel, Minmetals and China Investment Corp (CIC) - Beijing's $300 billion sovereign wealth fund - are all aggressively scouring South East Asia's largest economy for takeover targets and joint venture partners, the Live Trading News reported.
Those remarks came shortly after a key International Monetary Fund (IMF) official flatly stated that the currency is severely undervalued.
China's Vice Commerce Minister Zhong Shan told The Wall Street Journal in an exclusive interview that the profit margins on many Chinese export goods were less than 2% and any further increase in the currency's value would endanger more exporters' survival.