US officials point to weak Chinese stock performance as a gauge of China’s vulnerability to US economic pressure through tariffs. The American stock market has done better than the Chinese market this year, to be sure. But American stocks that best represent America’s export potential have done just as poorly as Chinese stocks during 2018. In fact, they have traded in lockstep with the broad Chinese market.
The chart below shows the performance of Caterpillar, America’s poster child for capital goods exports, compared to the popular large-cap Chinese equity ETF, ticker FXI.
Both are down 11% year to date, and as the chart shows, they have traded almost identically.
The broad US market has benefited from a surge in healthcare stocks and in tech stocks, which are for the most part entertainment monopolies. The Trump Administration went out of its way to exempt popular Chinese electronics imports, especially smartphones, from its tariff scheme, and for good reason. The most buoyant equity valuations come from tech companies like Apple, Google and Facebook that rely on cheap Asian electronics to provide entertainment to Americans.
That part of the US-Chinese relationship has remained untouched. But where tariffs apply, American companies like Caterpillar have suffered exactly as much as the Chinese stock market.