'Tariff Man' takes aim at automakers

Macro 4 minutes to read

Michael McKenna

Head of Editorial Content, Saxo Bank

Summary:  President Trump is trying to halt the arrival of Central American migrants with a series of rising tariffs on Mexican imports. If the issue is not resolved before the June 10 deadline, it could weigh very heavily on US carmakers.


US president Donald Trump has expanded his “tariff man” mandate beyond China to Mexico, where he plans to apply a 5% tariff on all goods as of June 10 if authorities do not take concrete steps to halt the number of Central American migrants entering the US via Mexico.
In March of this year, over 100,000 asylum seekers reached the US’ southern border, with Foreign Affairs (a Council on Foreign Relations publication) claiming that most came from “El Salvador, Guatemala, or Honduras […] to escape gang violence, poverty, and lack of opportunity”.

According to CNN, the new tariffs could place major US corporate names in big trouble, as more than two-thirds of trade from Mexico consists of exchanges between US firms and their subsidiaries.

Today, Reuters reported that Mexico City is taking the threat seriously and has sent a high-level delegation to Washington to discuss the matter.

Speaking to press Sunday, Acting US Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney emphasised that “we intentionally left the declaration sort of ad hoc,” adding that “there’s no specific target, there’s no specific percent, but things have to get better. They have to get dramatically better”.

A crisis for carmakers

Although a vast array of goods from computers and personal electronics to agricultural produce and alcohol cross the US-Mexican border every day, the single largest sector placed in jeopardy by Trump’s tariff threats is automakers.
 
Mexican imports
According to Deutsche Bank chief economist Torsten Slok, “US trade with Mexico is basically all about cars”. With Trump claiming that he is ready to escalate the 5% tariff to 25% if Washington is not satisfied with Mexico’s response, Deutsche’s latest report forecasted General Motors taking a $6.3 billion hit before interest and taxes. Fiat Chrysler would see a $4.8bn impact and Ford would take $3.3bn.

Among Japanese carmakers, Nissan would be the hardest hit as exports from Mexico to the US account for about 25% of the company's US sales.

Mexican-made vehicles account for about 15% of US light vehicle sales, states industry research group LMC Automotive.

Key charts to watch

USDMXN spiked from just above 19.00 to 19.82 on the initial announcement, while GM shares dropped from the 34.75 area to 33.20. Long-term support dating back to 2012 sits at around 31.85 for GM shares; this could be a key level to watch as negotiations continue.
USDMXN
USDMXN (daily, source: Saxo Bank)
General Motors (daily, source: Saxo Bank)
General Motors (daily, source: Saxo Bank)

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