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Investing and Wall Street commentary from CNBC's Jim Cramer

Cramer: A trade war with China produces a lot of losers and not enough winners

CNBC logo CNBC 4/19/2018 Elizabeth Gurdus

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As stocks sank on Thursday, CNBC's Jim Cramer inspected the market for the various triggers that sparked the decline.

"Thanks to a nasty combination of the yield on the 10-year Treasury approaching 3 percent, a series of disappointments in the consumer products space, some amazingly fast growth in personal and corporate spending, a rally in commodities and a pickup in the trade war with China, we got hit with a flash flood of selling in a number of key groups," the "Mad Money" host said.

Of all the woes, Cramer was particularly worried about the breadth of the United States' trade dispute with China.

Steel and aluminum tariffs are starting to have an impact on U.S. metal producers' earnings, but the trade conflict has now spread to the technology sector, a larger and more dominant group in the stock market.

After the U.S. Department of Commerce imposed a seven-year ban on selling U.S. goods to Chinese phone equipment maker ZTE, China struck back, issuing a negative review of Qualcomm's proposed acquisition of NXP Semiconductors.

Read more from Jim Cramer and other top money experts

The Chinese Commerce Department effectively said it would block the deal on antitrust grounds. But to Cramer, who saw very little overlap in the two businesses, this seemed like "pure tit-for-tat."

Qualcomm makes cellphone technology, while NXP develops chips for cars in the vein of autonomous driving, connected vehicles and collision avoidance, he said.

"It's totally arbitrary. It's totally capricious. That's the point, which is why this had such a devastating impact on a key leadership group: the semiconductor stocks," Cramer said.

Already under pressure from a slowdown in cellphone manufacturing, the semiconductor sector was hit with another leg down from the Qualcomm-NXP snag.

The pain spread to potential acquirers like Broadcom, Intel and Texas Instruments, potential takeover targets like Analog Devices, Integrated Device Technologies and Skyworks Solutions, and in-betweeners like Nvidia and Micron.

On the second day of the selling spree, sellers even targeted semiconductor equipment makers like KLA-Tencor, Applied Materials, ASML Holding and Lam Research.

"The semis are a leadership group, no doubt about it, so the tone was just plain jarring," the "Mad Money" host said.

"The problem is, in a trade war with China, there simply aren't enough publicly-traded winners," he continued. "It's mostly steelmakers like Nucor, which gave a pretty great forecast ... or aluminum play[s] like Alcoa, because the whole point is to protect these industries from unfair Chinese competition. But there are a lot of publicly traded losers."

Disclosure: Cramer's charitable trust owns shares of Broadcom, Nvidia and Nucor.

Questions for Cramer? Call Cramer: 1-800-743-CNBC Want to take a deep dive into Cramer's world? Hit him up! Mad Money Twitter - Jim Cramer Twitter - Facebook - Instagram - Vine Questions, comments, suggestions for the "Mad Money" website? madcap@cnbc.com

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