Back to top

U.S.-China Trade Spat Hits Fever Pitch: Top & Flop Stocks

Read MoreHide Full Article

President Trump has threatened to expand tariffs on Chinese goods, which many fear will trigger a Chinese harassment of U.S. businesses. The trade spat between the two countries did take a toll on the iPhone maker, semiconductors, industrial behemoths, steel producers and automobiles.

But, the same cannot be said about defensive players, regional producers and companies with strong growth narratives. Shares of such companies easily bucked the sharply negative tone of the broader market.          

Trade Tensions Surge

Trump caught China off guard with his announcement of new tariffs. If China retaliates against U.S. trade policies, then the White House would impose tariffs of 10% on additional $400 billion of Chinese imports. White House senior trade adviser Peter Navarro and U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer argue that the Trump administration took this tough stance as China represents a fundamental threat to the United States in terms of technology and innovation.

China, unfortunately, remained hell-bent on increasing its tariffs on $50 billion worth of U.S. exports and accused the United States for ratcheting a trade war. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce also pledged to apply qualitative retaliatory tactics. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics added that ‘the qualitative thing they could do [would be to] devalue the currency — that would be even more extreme — to offset the impact of the tariffs on their products.”

Tariff tantrums and the prospect of a global trade war have roiled Wall Street. But there are stocks that have benefited from the rising trade tensions (read more: 5 Top Stocks to Gain From Escalating Trade War Tensions).

Trade Fears Force Investors to Play Defensive

Defensive stocks have been under tremendous pressure this year so far, partly due to rise in bond yields. But as the markets are plagued by trade related uncertainty, defensive stocks are moving north. After all, such stocks are generally non-cyclical, or companies whose business performance and sales are not highly correlated with the activities in the broader market. Their products are in constant demand irrespective of market volatility and such names include companies from utilities and consumer staples.

Utilities are deemed defensive stocks as electricity, gas and water are essentials. Food, beverage and tobacco companies are true defensive plays as demand for such staple stocks remains unaltered during market gyrations.

A notable company from the electric power industry, CenterPoint Energy, Inc.’s (CNP - Free Report) expected growth rate for the current year is 16.1% compared with the industry’s estimated rally of 6.4%. CenterPoint Energy flaunts a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

In the same way, Ollie's Bargain Outlet Holdings, Inc. (OLLI - Free Report) that offers food products, housewares, books and stationery, bed and bath products, is projected to gain 36.8% this year compared with the Consumer Products - Staples industry’s estimated rally of 12.1%. Ollie's Bargain Outlet also carries a Zacks Rank #2.

Domestic Producers Outperform Multinationals

Despite escalating trade concerns, domestic producers remain fairly immune. This is because such stocks have high domestic exposure in terms of revenue generation, which shields them from the aftermath of international disputes. On the contrary, trade issues are headwinds for bigwigs as these erode overseas profits.

One such domestic player as per Goldman is Roper Technologies, Inc. (ROP - Free Report) . The conglomerate derives a meagre 10% of revenues from China. The company’s expected growth rate for the current quarter is 20.5% compared with the Manufacturing - General Industrial  industry’s estimated rally of 5.8%. Roper Technologies has a Zacks Rank #2.

Companies with Solid Growth Narratives Emerge Winners

Not all multinationals, though, are bearing the brunt of escalating trade tensions. Notable, among them are Alphabet Inc., Facebook and Axon Enterprise, Inc. (AAXN - Free Report) . This is because their long-term growth narrative will not be affected by a trade war. And why so? Google’s growth is dependent on an uptick in digital advertising, while Facebook’s growth is also mostly in digital advertising space. Needless to say that digital advertising industry is hardly affected by the implementation of tariffs.

Axon Enterprise, in the meantime, sells an array of digital solutions including cloud data storage systems and mobile video apps to law enforcement agencies throughout the world. Such agencies are in desperate need of a technology makeover, which gives the stock a solid growth narrative and helped it earn a Zacks Rank #1 (Strong Buy). You can see the complete list of today’s Zacks #1 Rank stocks here.

The company’s expected earnings growth rate for the current year is 75.6% compared with the Security and Safety Services industry’s estimated rally of 16.4%.

Let’s now take a look at those who aren’t as lucky, and why?

The iPhone Maker & Chip Stocks Feel the Pain

As trade tensions escalate, Apple Inc. (AAPL - Free Report) could be most at risk. After all, Apple has generated around 20% of its revenues or $44.7 billion from Greater China. It has also shipped nearly 41 million iPhones into China and is now the fifth largest player in the market, as per IDC. To top it, the company has 40 stores in China and operates services such as the App store and Apple Music.

Not to forget, Apple is dependent heavily on its suppliers. The iPhones are assembled in China by Taiwanese firm Foxconn. Shares of Apple have been moving downward since the beginning of the trade spat between the two largest economies in the world. The iPhone maker saw its shares decline 1.6% on Jun 19.

Apple Inc. Price and Consensus


Apple Inc. Price and Consensus

Apple Inc. price-consensus-chart | Apple Inc. Quote

Semiconductor companies including QUALCOMM Incorporated and Intel Corporation were also taken aback after the U.S. government decided to impose tariffs, particularly, on computer chips imported from China. The Semiconductor Industry Association raised concerns by saying “while the U.S. semiconductor industry shares the Trump administration's concerns about China's forced technology transfer and intellectual property practices, the proposed imposition of tariffs on semiconductors from China, most of which are actually researched, designed, and manufactured in the U.S., is counterproductive.”

Dow Tanks, Boeing Bleeds

Trade-sensitive industrial stocks including The Boeing Company (BA - Free Report) compelled the Dow to close lower for the sixth straight session. Thanks to such a string of down days, the blue-chip index turned negative for the year so far.

Boeing is caught in the crosshairs of the trade war. For Boeing, China is a big market. After all, the airline manufacturer previously said that it expects China to spend almost $1.1 trillion in the next 20 years by acquiring more than 7,200 new airplanes. Lest we forget that China had threatened to buy Airbus instead of Boeing if the United States gets involved in a trade fight. Shares of Boeing declined 3.8% on Jun 19.

The Boeing Company Price and Consensus


The Boeing Company Price and Consensus

The Boeing Company price-consensus-chart | The Boeing Company Quote

Steel Prices & Almost Anything Related to Auto Take a Hit

Investors remained nervous and apprehensive about the future potential of heavy machine industries amid trade war rhetoric. Iron and steel for construction uses are included in the U.S. tariff list. Thus, steel and iron ore prices are taking a beating. While iron ore prices are at its lowest level in two months, steel continued its retreat from a three-month high. United States Steel Corp. (X - Free Report) and Steel Dynamics each slipped more than 3% on Jun 19.


Meanwhile, concerns about auto part imports are weighing on the auto industry. Tariffs will lead to higher auto parts import costs and that in turn could squeeze the profit margin.

General Motors and Ford Motor stocks declined 3.9% and 0.8%, respectively, on Jun 19. Tesla, Inc. (TSLA - Free Report) has a significant production base in China. Thus, Tesla was down 4.9%.

Today's Stocks from Zacks' Hottest Strategies

It's hard to believe, even for us at Zacks. But while the market gained +21.9% in 2017, our top stock-picking screens have returned +115.0%, +109.3%, +104.9%, +98.6%, and +67.1%.

And this outperformance has not just been a recent phenomenon. Over the years it has been remarkably consistent. From 2000 - 2017, the composite yearly average gain for these strategies has beaten the market more than 19X over. Maybe even more remarkable is the fact that we're willing to share their latest stocks with you without cost or obligation.

See Them Free>>

More from Zacks Analyst Blog

You May Like