markets

Here's Why Wells Fargo Sees a Trade War Benefiting the Greenback

  • U.S. economy ‘positioned to be hurt the least,’ bank says
  • Dollar rose while stocks fell as Trump orders tariffs

UBS's Mark Haefele Says Markets Are Responding to Trade War Rhetoric

While the dollar has few fans among Wall Street strategists, Wells Fargo predicts that the greenback stands to gain from escalating trade tensions.

President Donald Trump ordered sweeping tariffs on Chinese goods Thursday, prompting concern that America’s largest foreign creditor will retaliate. But Wells Fargo predicts that the row could revive the greenback. The Bloomberg dollar index gained Thursday, paring its 2018 drop to about 2.9 percent, while U.S. stocks slumped.

For Wells Fargo, the prospect of a trade war poses a risk for its broader 2018 outlook, which is for a weaker U.S. currency. What it boils down to is their view that a wave of protectionism could lead to narrower American trade deficits, feeding through into dollar strength.

“We are of the view that any sort of trade war scenario would likely be dollar-positive,” said Erik Nelson, a currency strategist at the bank. “The U.S. economy is probably positioned to be hurt the least in such a scenario and the U.S. dollar has shown some risk-off behavior in recent months.”

The consensus is leaning in the other direction, partly on speculation that Chinese retaliation or a tit-for-tat trade war would crimp foreign demand for U.S. assets. For one thing, with the U.S. facing swelling budget deficits, there’s a sense that the dollar is vulnerable should international buyers shun American debt.

For Nelson, a trade war would benefit the greenback in particular against currencies of emerging-market countries that have large trade surpluses with the U.S. and are sensitive to global equity weakness.

That list includes currencies such as the Mexican peso, South Korean won and the ruble.

“Today’s market move (weaker equities, stronger USD) is definitely consistent with the pattern we have seen in recent months, and moreover I think is a fairly telling indication of what could occur in a trade-war scenario,” Nelson wrote in an email.

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