European automakers surged the most in more than a year Thursday as investors reacted to a report that suggested President Donald Trump could back away from this threat to impose new tariffs on imports into the United States if the European Union slashed its levies on American cars sold in the bloc.
Germany's Handelsblatt newspaper reported late Wednesday that Richard Grenell, the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, told executives at the country's biggest carmakers during a meeting in Berlin that Trump would consider a so-called 'zero tariff' solution to the current stand-off, which was escalated last month when the President threatened a new 20% levy on European imports, a view he has repeated several times since, including earlier this week during a one-on-one meeting with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
"We are going to be meeting with (the EU) fairly soon and I want to see if they can work something out," Trump said during a press conference with Rutte. "If we work it out it will be positive, and if we don't it will be positive, because we just think of all those cars that pour in here," he added, before before interrupted by the Dutch Prime Minister, who insisted: "No, we have to work something out."
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The Stoxx Europe 600 Automobiles and Parts index, the sector benchmark, rose more than 3.6% by mid-day of trading Thursday, the biggest one-day gain in 18 months, while Germany's biggest carmakers posted solid gains in trading in Frankfurt. Shares in luxury auotmaker Daimler AG (DMLRY) were marked 3.83% higher at €58.84 each while domestic rival BMW AG shares (BMWYY) jumped 5.12% to €81.75 each. Volkswagen AG (VLKAY) shares also on the move, rising 4.4% lower at €148.96 each. In France, Renault SA (RNLSY) (+2.92) and Peugeot SA (PUGOY) (+3.3%) drove solid gains for the CAC-40 while the U.S.-listed shares of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV (FCAU - Get Report) were marked 5.8% higher in pre-market trading in New York, indicating an opening bell price of $20 each.
Trump said last week that the U.S. was "close to finishing" a study on EU auto imports, suggesting he was nearing a decision to follow-through on an earlier threat to impose fresh new tariffs on French and German carmakers and, by extension, the broader European Union, which he said had "taken advantage" of the world's biggest economy for a long time.
Trump has consistently referenced the European auto sector as a potential target for tariffs in his effort to reduce what he has called "unfair" trade agreements between the United States and its largest economic partners.
The average EU tariff on U.S. goods imported into the bloc is 3%, according to Export.gov data, although non-EU automobiles are subject to a 29% tariff when brought into the bloc, of which 19% is a value-added tax and 10% is a tariff based on current World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.
Cars imported into the United States from countries that don't have existing pacts with Washington are subject to a 12.5% levy, while pickup trucks are subject to a 25% tariff.
That said, some of the largest production facilities of Europe's biggest carmarkers are located in the United States, with plants in Vance, Al. and Spartanburg, S.C. and Chattanooga, Tn., that assemble around a third of the German cars sold domestically.