Federal Reserve officials are worried about President Donald Trump's trade war with China. Industry groups representing the likes of ConocoPhillips (COP - Get Report) and Macy's Inc. (M - Get Report) are worried. Investors are worried too.
So what does Trump want by charging down this warpath? Economists from at least one global investment bank, Barclays Plc (BCS , are now willing to say: They haven't the foggiest idea.
"His overall objectives, in our view, remain uncertain," the Barclays economists wrote Tuesday in a report.
While Trump says his campaign to reduce the $552 billion U.S. trade deficit will protect domestic industries and create jobs, business groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and National Retail Federation have argued that the policies will simply drive up prices for American consumers.
A report last week from State Street Corp. (STT - Get Report) , the Boston-based bank and asset custodian, said that investor confidence globally fell in August amid growing concern over a U.S.-China trade war. And a separate report last month from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York indicated that Trump's trade tariffs already have increased the price of raw materials and other "input" costs for manufacturers in the New York area.
The office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement last month that the tariffs were set to expand to a total of $50 billion on Aug. 23, and that the administration is pressing forward with duties on another $200 billion of Chinese products.
Barclays, based in London, estimates that a trade war with China could cost the U.S. roughly 0.2 percentage points in gross domestic product, while costing China 0.4 percentage points.
But a festering question, some two months after the first $34 billion of Trump's tariffs on Chinese imports took effect, is what the president and his team are trying to accomplish, according to Barclays.
The trade representative's focus is on "intellectual property theft by China and the forced transfer of technology," according to the bank. The president, meanwhile, seems more focused on reducing the trade deficit, the economists wrote.
"In forming an assessment of what comes next in the escalation of tit-for-tat trade restrictions between the U.S. and China, we need to have a view on the goals of Trump trade policy," they wrote. "Unfortunately, we admit that we lack a clear understanding of the U.S. administration's primary objective."
Press officials from the trade representative's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
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