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Trump's trade war will soon hit 65% of global business leaders: CNBC survey

CNBC logo CNBC 6/21/2018 Anthony Volastro

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As the U.S. teeters on the brink of a tit-for-tat trade war with China and a growing number of allies, President Trump's insistent push for policy changes is causing a full-swing rattle in global markets and among business leaders.

Seven of the 16 biggest Dow declines this year appear to have been sparked by trade concerns, according to CNBC data. There have been 35 moves of 1 percent or more in the Dow Jones Industrial Average this year, 12 of which CNBC found were entirely or substantially related to trade-related news. The seven negative Dow moves shaved $700 billion in market cap off the index.

Trade uncertainty has risen to be the biggest risk for corporations, according to the latest CNBC Global CFO Council quarterly survey. To that point, 35 percent of global CFOs say U.S. trade policy is the biggest external risk their company faces, up from 27 percent in Q1, and tripling from the 11.6 percent who cited trade policy in the fourth quarter of 2017.

It is going to be a tough six months

Amid strong gross domestic product and job growth, and profit-friendly corporate tax cuts, nearly 65 percent of North American CFO respondents said U.S. trade policy is likely to negatively impact their firms over the next six months; 20 percent of CFOs indicated the impact would be "very negative." Sixty-six percent of Asia-Pacific region CFOs expect a negative impact on their firms.

"What is interesting is business leaders as well as investors don't like uncertainty and I think we are being exposed to an abnormal amount of sausage-making in the process", said MongoDB CFO and CNBC Global CFO Council member Michael Gordon, MongoDB on CNBC's Worldwide Exchange earlier this week.

Still, 60 percent of North American CFOs say the full benefits of the Trump tax cuts remain regardless of the trade risks. Forty percent say that uncertainty around trade is hurting their firm's ability to take full advantage of tax reform.

And despite the trade uncertainty, the CFO Council's global economic outlook remains rosy. Not one global region was seen as worse than "stable" for the sixth-straight quarter. The U.S. was seen as "improving" for the eighth-straight quarter.

(Note: The CNBC Global CFO Council represents some of the largest public and private companies in the world, collectively managing more than $4.5 trillion in market capitalization across a wide variety of sectors. Forty-three of the 103 current members of the CNBC Global CFO Council responded to this quarter's survey, including 20 North American-based members, 17 EMEA-based members, and 6 APAC-based members. The survey was conducted from June 1–17, 2018.)

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