U.S. consumer tech stocks were given a reprieve from President Donald Trump's decision to slap fresh tariffs on $200 billion worth of China-made goods, but the threat of a third phase of levies on a tech-heavy basket of products keeps a significant cloud of uncertainty over the market's most-valuable sector.
After weeks of lobbying from some of the biggest U.S. tech groups, as well as a private dinner between President Trump and Apple Inc. (AAPL CEO Tim Cook, last night's list of around 6,000 products that will be subject to the new U.S. levy has largely excluded consumer tech gadgets. The list, published by the U.S. Trade Representative, stayed away from devices based on data transmission, such as iPhones, but included network and cloud computing gear such as modems, routers and switches.
"President Trump's decision to impose an additional $200 billion is reckless and will create lasting harm to communities across the country," said Dean Garfield, CEO of the Information Technology Industry Council, a lobby group. "If implemented, these tariffs will have both short- and long-term effects on the United States - from increased prices at the checkout counter to decreased leadership on the emerging technologies that will shape our future."
Trump's so-called "phase three" tariffs, which target a further $267 billion worth of goods and will be applied if China retaliates with levies of its own, could have a far deeper impact on both the tech and consumer sectors, given that the proposed list includes around $80 billion in mobiles and laptops, including the iPhone, and a further $54 billion in clothing, shoes and toys.
"If China takes retaliatory action against our farmers or other industries, we will immediately pursue phase three, which is tariffs on approximately $267 billion of additional imports," the President said.
China said it was left with "no choice but to retaliate simultaneously", with the Commerce Ministry adding that it "hopes the United States would recognise the negative consequences of its actions, and take convincing steps to correct its behaviour in a timely manner."
Apple Inc.'s (AAPL Frankfurt-listed shares were also modestly weaker at the start of the trading session, falling 0.48% to €186,400 for a bundle of 150 "units" of the world's biggest tech company. Its main U.S. listed shares were marked 0.12% higher in pre-market trading, indicating an opening bell price of $218.14 each.
Apple's European suppliers, however, were broadly stronger, with AMS AG (AMSSY rising 1.35% in Austria and STMicroelectronics (STM and ASML NV (ASML bumping 0.85% and 1.05% higher respectively in Amsterdam.
Yesterday the S&P 500 had its worst day in a month on trade fears and tech drop, Apple a big loser. However, US has spared some Apple products from new China tariffs... rebound already underway pic.twitter.com/VUYh7gnuSf— Anthony Cheung (@AWMCheung) September 18, 2018
Apple shares had fallen some 2.6% yesterday on Wall Street amid concern that the Trump tariff move would include some of its consumer products, including the AppleWatch and its AirPod earphones, but the published list appeared to exempt the group's China imports for the moment.
The S&P 500 Information Technology Index is down 2.53% so far this month, while the Philadelphia SE Semiconductor index, a benchmark for the chip sector, is down 3.12%, against a modest 0.44% decline for the S&P 500
Earlier this month, CEOs from some of the biggest U.S. tech companies, including Cisco Systems (CSCO , Dell Technologies (DELL , Hewlett Packard Enterprises (HPE , urged U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to re-consider the White House's tariff plans, arguing the move would "cause broad, disproportionate economic harm to U.S. interests, including our companies and U.S. workers, our customers, U.S. consumers, and broader U.S. economic and strategic priorities" while slowing investment for the rollout of 5-G networks and advances in cloud computing.
"In addition to leaving us with less capital to invest in research and development, over time the reduced profits that the duties could cause could lead to hiring freezes, stagnant wages, and even job losses, as well as harm to investors such as reduced dividends and erosion of shareholder value," the companies said.