It looks like the sweeping tariffs on imported steel and aluminum that President Trump said he would announce this week may not be so sweeping after all.
Equity markets recovered in afternoon trading today after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that Canada and Mexico and possibly some allies could be exempted from the tariffs, which would apply to imported steel and aluminum.
The Dow fell 82.3 points, or 0.33%, after having been down as much as 349 points, while the S&P 500 slipped by 0.05% and the Nasdaq Composite rose 0.33%.
Trump is expected to formally sign off on the tariffs Thursday afternoon, according to The Wall Street Journal, citing an official familiar with the planning. Sanders said the announcement would come before the end of the week.
But signs that the Trump administration is willing to make exceptions could still push that timing back. A White House reporter tweeted that his sources said they didn't know exactly what would happen.
"Three senior people in the building say they are not sure what exactly it will say and that no one seems to know at this point," said the tweet from Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post.
Foreign leaders including Canada's Justin Trudeau, Germany's Angela Merkel, Britain's Theresa May and France's Emmanuel Macron have suggested that the tariffs could pose dangers for the world economy.
The first casualty of the tariff tiff was Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, who lost a battle against Trump advisers including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and trade adviser Peter Navarro who lobbied in favor of the tariffs. Trump reportedly asked Cohn to publicly signal support for the new levies, and when Cohn declined to do so, Trump became angry. Cohn quit yesterday.
Trump and some of his advisers may be considering possible trade retaliation from export markets that are important to various U.S. constituencies. Among the potential targets are U.S. orange juice, cranberries, chewing tobacco and bed linen, as well as Harley-Davidson (HOG) motorcycles, Jim Beam bourbon whisky and Levi's blue jeans.
Florida, which Trump narrowly carried in the 2016 election, is a major orange juice producer. House speaker Paul Ryan comes from Wisconsin, home of Harley- Davidson and also the largest cranberry producer among U.S. states. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell comes from Kentucky, home to Jim Beam as well as a major tobacco producer.
Ross himself, who in 2004 made $2 billion by selling the International Steel Group, a collection of steel companies he acquired when they were in or near bankruptcy, to an Indian steel company, is also trying to show that the Trump administration isn't deliberately fomenting chaos, in spite of indications of such. The tariff plan was sprung upon an unsuspecting national security establishment last week amid criticism that the White House was not doing enough to combat gun violence.
"I think you're going to see, as you understand the details of what actually is going to happen, that we're not trying to blow up the world," Ross said on CNBC today. Then he emphasized that.
"We're not trying to do that."
The markets seem to be betting that Trump will back down at least to some degree, for the moment. Tomorrow, though, is another day.