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- Executives at S&P 500 companies sounded off on the US-China trade war during their first-quarter conference calls.
- Goldman Sachs equity strategists analyzed a selection of executive commentary across S&P 500 earnings calls and found trade-related uncertainty to be a major theme plaguing business.
- Visit Markets Insider’s homepage for more stories.
If there’s an elephant in the room that US multinational corporations are grappling with, it’s the ongoing trade war between the two largest economies in the world.
Executives at S&P 500 companies addressed how the US-China trade dispute impacted their company’s first-quarter earnings results, detailing a significant degree of uncertainty and the extent of their exposure.
It’s one of the three major themes highlighted by Goldman Sachs strategists in a quarterly report released this week analyzing excerpts from 40 first-quarter conference calls.
Executives said the uncertainty over trade made it more difficult to navigate their relationship with China but did not have significant near-term ramifications.
"The decision by President Trump to raise tariffs surprised both managements and investors who had believed the trade friction was moving towards a resolution," the strategists, led by David Kostin, wrote in a report to clients out Monday.
Downward pressure on profit margins remains a risk for many companies, the strategists said, while some corporations were already preparing to shift their supply chains away from China to minimize the impact.
"We’ve been very, very highly focused not only at fixing long-term problems by diversifying away from China our supply, but also by creating, through our procurement organization and supply chain, a number of partnerships which are almost standby partnerships, ready to jump in as soon as we have issues," Pierre Brondeau, the chairman and CEO the chemical manufacturer FMC, said on his company’s earnings call earlier this month.
It should be noted that the comments listed below were made before the most recent escalation in the trade war, which rocked global markets over the last week. China on Monday hiked tariffs on $60 billion worth of US goods, sending markets plunging.
That followed President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement last Friday that the US would raise tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports to 25%. The announcement took investors by surprise after Trump earlier this month said Beijing and Washington’s trade talks were progressing.
Below is a selection of what companies about the trade war’s impact on business:
While the company hadn’t "heard anything or seen anything that would imply pressure," an executive said on the earnings call earlier this month that the dispute was a source of uncertainty for the business.
"In terms of China, trade policy is a daily question in our mind when we see what tweets come out each morning, so it’s hard for us to gauge," said Blake Jorgensen, chief operating officer and chief financial officer at Electronic Arts.
United Parcel Service
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UPS CEO and chairman David Abney said the US-China trade uncertainty has prompted "softer" industry forecasts throughout the first quarter.
"We certainly encourage leaders of the two countries to find solutions that support increased two-way trade, but also by ensuring many US companies have access to export to China," he said.
Some UPS customers had adjusted their own supply chains to adapt to "changing trade dynamics," he added.
"I think having seen the yo-yo sentiment on the trade talks, I would rather wait for the talks to conclude than analyze what that finality is, whether it ends up at 10% duty or something higher than that or goes all the way to 0%," CEO and chairman Stephen Sanghi said earlier this month.
Sanghi said he wanted to wait to make an informed opinion about the trade war’s impact on the business by speaking with salespeople "rather than just throw something out."
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