Back to top

Image: Bigstock

Trade War Gets Uglier: Here Are the ETF Winners & Losers

Read MoreHide Full Article

Dashing investor’s hopes of a truce, the Sino-US trade war tensions have escalated. This trade war has for long been impeding global economic growth and causing recessionary fears. Once again, this ‘attack and retaliation’ game has left the U.S. and global major indices tumbling.

Accordingly, major U.S. indices like the S&P 500 Index have lost 1.5% along with a 1.3% decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average Index and 1.7% fall of the NASDAQ Composite Index (as of Aug 26 since the announcement of Chinese retaliation on Aug 23). Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index has lost 1.9% on Aug 26, Shanghai Composite Index declined 1.2% and Japan’s NIKKEI 225 Index moved down 2.2% on the same day. Indices in South Korea and Indonesia also showed a similar trend following the news (read: 5 ETF Zones to Take Shelter From Trade War).

President Xi’s Retaliation

Responding to President Trump’s early August attack, China imposed new tariffs ranging between 5% and 10% on $75 billion worth of goods from the United States, effective on some items from Sep 1 and others from Dec 15. The increased duties will be levied on nearly 5,078 U.S. products, including agricultural goods like soybeans and coffee along with whiskey, seafood, aircraft and crude oil. Moreover, effective Dec 15, China has decided to reinstate a 25% tariff on U.S. automobiles or 5% on auto parts.

Trump’s Counterattack

Baffled by the Chinese retaliation, Trump responded by raising tariffs on $550 billion worth of Chinese goods. He lifted existing tariffs to 30% from 25% on $250 billion of Chinese imports effective Oct 1. Moreover, tariffs planned on a further $300 billion in Chinese goods will be revised to 15% from 10% in two stages — Sep 1 and Dec 15. Furthermore, Trump ordered U.S. companies to consider alternative ways to make their products in the United States and close operations in China. He also tweeted that, “we don't need China and, frankly, would be far better off without them.” 

Is a Respite in Sight?

There is no denying that the global economy is facing the brunt of the ongoing trade war. Investors have been disappointed with sluggish economic growth data coming from the U.K., Germany, Japan and China.

However, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He recently condemned the trade war and commented said in a Chongqing conference, "we are willing to use a calm attitude to solve problems by negotiations and cooperation." Trump responded to this comment saying, "this is a very positive development for the world. I think we're going to make a deal" at the G7 summit. These statements have brought optimism in the markets and rekindled hopes of a truce between the two largest economies.

ETF Winners to Snap Up

Treasury Bonds 

iShares 20+ Year Treasury Bond ETF (TLT - Free Report) )

Heightened global uncertainty brings this safe asset into limelight. Fed rate cuts this year and geopolitical concerns may drive treasury valuation. Apart from TLT, investors can consider 25+ Year Zero Coupon U.S. Treasury Index Fund (ZROZ - Free Report)  and Vanguard Extended Duration Treasury ETF (EDV - Free Report) (read: Top ETF Events of 1H Worth Watching in 2H).

Precious Metal ETFs

SPDR Gold Trust ETF ((GLD - Free Report) )

Gold is often viewed as a safe-haven asset offering protection against financial risks and may perform well on heightened market volatility (read: Gold ETF Inflows Hits 6-Year High: How to Go Long). Apart from GLD, investors can consider iShares Gold Trust (IAU - Free Report) (read: How to Bet on Gold Surge With ETFs & Stocks).

The biggest silver bullion fund iShares Silver Trust SLV can also be a good pick (read: Precious Metal ETFs Gain From Tit-for-Tat Tariff Action).

Invesco CurrencyShares Japanese Yen Trust (FXY - Free Report)

The Japanese currency yen is often considered a classic safe-haven asset that has gained some strength of late. Investors can target this currency via FXY, which measures the value of yen against the greenback (see: all the Currency ETFs here) (read: Safe-Haven ETFs Rally on Global Unrest: ETFs to Snap Up).

ETF Losers to Watch Out

US Agricultural/Livestock ETFs

The American Farm Bureau Federation thinks that the current move "signals more trouble for American agriculture." Thus, investors can keep an eye on some ETFs like the Teucrium Wheat Fund WEAT, MLCX Grains ETN (GRU - Free Report) , iPath Bloomberg Grains Subindex Total Return ETN (JJG - Free Report) and iPath Dow Jones-UBS Livestock Subindex Total Return ETN COW (see: all the Agricultural ETFs here).

Automobile ETF

In the current scenario, it is prudent to watch how the ETFs with considerable exposure to auto makers behave. First Trust NASDAQ Global Auto Index Fund (CARZ - Free Report) with 24% exposure to United States is one such ETF.

Semiconductor ETFs

Against this backdrop, let’s take a look at some of the semiconductor ETFs facing the trade war heat. The iShares PHLX Semiconductor ETF (SOXX - Free Report) , VanEck Vectors Semiconductor ETF (SMH - Free Report) , Direxion Daily Semiconductors Bull 3x Shares (SOXL - Free Report) and the ProShares Ultra Semiconductors USD can be given a thought.

Want key ETF info delivered straight to your inbox?

Zacks’ free Fund Newsletter will brief you on top news and analysis, as well as top-performing ETFs, each week. Get it free >>