Trump's trade war antics just spoiled a perfectly good jobs report

  • The March jobs report fell into an investor sweet spot that should have sent stocks soaring.
  • Instead, major US indexes remained negative as investors focused on President Donald Trump’s overnight escalation of trade-war threats with China.
  • Follow US stocks on Markets Insider.

Under normal circumstances, the March jobs report released Friday would have sent stocks surging.

That’s because it was, in many ways, the perfect set of results for the market. It met multiple key attributes of a so-called Goldilocks environment – defined as steady growth without inflation – as the number of jobs added increased quarter-over-quarter while average hourly earnings fell in line with expectations.

But these are not normal circumstances.

Instead of surging on the report, futures on the benchmark S&P 500 remained locked in negative territory, down more than 0.7%. The index extended losses in regular trading, falling 1.8%, while the Dow Jones industrial average lost 2.1% and the more tech-heavy Nasdaq 100 slid 1.8%.

And the market has President Donald Trump to thank for its futility.

On Thursday night, hours after markets closed, the White House said in a statement that Trump was considering new tariffs on $US100 billion worth of annual imports from China. The announcement immediately sent S&P 500 futures plummeting as much as 1.5%.

And while losses pared slightly in the ensuing hours, futures stayed firmly lower overnight ahead of the jobs report.

Screen Shot 2018 04 06 at 11.10.36 AMMarketwatch

As the past couple of weeks have shown, China won’t take tariffs lying down, and it made that abundantly clear on Thursday night. Around the same time as Trump’s remarks, a senior Chinese government official in Beijing reiterated that China would “retaliate immediately, intensively, without any hesitation,”according to a Bloomberg report.

It was just the latest episode in the trade war threats between the US and China that have put considerable pressure on equities in recent weeks. On Monday, US tech stocks saw their year-to-date gain erased amid rising trade tensions.

Despite the president’s persistence on the trade front, recent turbulence has surely rankled Trump, who for months after his election victory prided himself on the record-setting stock market.

And while the S&P 500 still has a long ways to go to erase the so-called Trump bump, it’s undeniable that the president’s combative trade stance is among the market’s biggest headwinds.

“We’re seeing the first real potential trade war in most of our lifetimes, which can shake confidence,” Brad McMillan, the chief investment officer of Commonwealth Financial Network, told Business Insider in a recent interview. “It marks a departure from what we’ve seen for the last 30 years. It’s the unpredictability and uncertainty that has people so worried.”

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