This is not what the market wants to hear right now.
Hours after China’s Foreign Ministry said it would unveil its retaliation to the impending 10% US tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods “at an appropriate time” – a “measured” response that, because it wasn’t “the worst scenario that some analysts had expected”, helped push global markets higher, China’s wealthiest – and recently retired – man warned that the US-China trade spat is far from over.
Alibaba founder – who surprised the market earlier this month when he announced his resignation as CEO – Jack Ma said that what we’re seeing now is merely the beginning of a conflict for global economic dominance that could persist “for 20 years” even after the US administration that instigated it has been consigned to the history books, Bloomberg reports.
Ma issued the “grave warning” during a speech at an Alibaba investor day conference in Hangzhou on Tuesday, where he portrayed the trade conflict as an intractable problem that won’t easily be resolved now that the US has set the conflict in motion.
“Short term, business communities in China, U.S., Europe will all be in trouble,” Ma said, pacing a stage in an open white dress shirt and punctuating his remarks with forceful jabs. “This thing will last long. If you want a short-term solution, there is no solution.”
However, Ma also said the trade trauma will create unprecedented opportunities for companies that can take advantage of the situation, and that Alibaba will be forced to innovate and grow in other parts of the world and become less dependent on US markets for success, which will ultimately be a net positive for the company. And while Ma has long been viewed as a key cultural ambassador to the US business community, his remarks left little doubt that he would stand up for his own government in the face of US aggression.
“We should not focus on this quarter or next quarter or next year’s profit. This is a huge opportunity,” he said. “If Alibaba cannot sustain and grow, no company in China can grow. I’m 100 percent confident in that.”
But Ma, a week after he announced plans to hand over the chairman role to Chief Executive Officer Daniel Zhang, left no doubt Tuesday about his support for his own country. If the U.S. insists on levying tariffs on Chinese goods, then China should shift its business to the rest of the world, he said.
“When problems come, learn how to hide, learn how to train,” he said. “I believe Daniel and his team will have the wisdom to fight for the future.”
While the long-term view is certainly less certain considering the chaos that has characterized trade negotiations between the US and China since the conflict began in earnest earlier this year, investors should expect that the conflict will intensify in the near-term, as analysts at Goldman Sachs said earlier Tuesday that they expect the US to move ahead with the next round of tariffs “in weeks” (Trump has threatened tariffs on another $267 billion of goods which would cover virtually all Chinese goods entering the US, and then some).
Yet, while Goldman doesn’t expect a resolution (or at least what would be a short-term lull, if Ma is eventually proven correct) before the mid-term elections, the bank’s analysts expect the market will continue to view the conflict with rose-colored glasses as investors cling to the hope that Larry Kudlow and Steven Mnuchin will prevail and a “deal” will eventually be cut.
Furthermore, with news on Tuesday morning that China is moving ahead with a complaint against the US with the World Trade Organization, we can’t help but wonder how much longer the market will cling to its hopes for a swift resolution to the trade spat, particularly when the US market’s continued divergence from ROW has become a self-justifying narrative for President Trump.