We’ve got two short weeks coming up–since the New York markets are closed this week for Christmas and next week for New Year’s–when trading volumes shrink and it doesn’t take much in the way of news to move stocks up or down.
I think we got that dose of “sufficient news” today when China announced that it would cut tariffs on 859 categories of imported products. The 2018 imports in the listed categories totaled $389 billion, or about 18% of China’s total $2.14 billion in imports, according to Bloomberg.
Among the most important imported products were frozen pork and parts for manufacturing smartphones.
The reasons for the drop in tariffs on imports looks to have something to do with a desire to demonstrate good will as China and the United States edge toward signing a Part 1 agreement in their trade war. But the list seems to go out of its way to include imports from members of the World Trade Organization and from countries with which China has free-trade agreements such as Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Chile, and Singapore. That’s quite possibly intended to demonstrate to the wider world that China remains committed to the global trade order despite its fight with the United States.
But as the inclusion of pork indicates the drop in tariffs has at least as much to do with domestic issues as it does with the U.S.-China deal. China is suffering shortages of pork due to massive losses of hogs to African swine fever. No commodity is more closely watched than pork in China and the government has been releasing frozen pork from its strategic reserve to cope with the market shortage.
The drop in tariffs also comes at the same time as the government released new measures to shore up companies in the private sector in an effort to increase growth in the Chinese economy. The measures open previously closed industries dominated by state-owned companies to non-state private investors.
I’d expect traders to use this news from China to push up stocks during these light-volume days, although on the evidence of today’s (December 23) trading the move may be relatively small. The Standard & Poor’s 500 closed up 0.07% today and the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended the day up 0.34%. The NASDAQ Composite was ahead 0.21% and the Russell 2000 small cap index inched higher by 007%. The iShares MSCI Emerging Markets ETF (EEM) closed with a 0.08% gain.