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article imageJumpy markets pose challenge for Trump

By Andrew BEATTY, Douglas Gillison (AFP)     Feb 6, 2018 in Business

The buoyant US economy has been a much-needed bright spot for Donald Trump's White House, but whipsaw moves on Wall Street and a rising trade deficit darkened the horizon Tuesday.

Trump spent the last year taking credit for Wall Street records, but in the last 48 hours received a warning aides and financial and advisors tell all political newcomers -- markets can go up, as well as down.

Monday saw the Dow's largest-ever points drop, prompting almost as much nervousness in the White House as it did on the New York Stock Exchange.

A partial recovery on Tuesday was clouded by news that the US trade deficit -- which Trump has vowed repeatedly to fix -- widened even further during his first year in office.

Government data showed the trade deficit rose 12 percent in 2017 to $566 billion, the highest level in a decade.

Analysts said that could cause downward revisions to growth rates from the end of last year, taking the US even further from Trump's goal of three-percent annual growth.

- Salesman-in-chief -

Until now, Trump has been notably successful in convincing Americans that continued economic growth was his doing.

With a major package of tax cuts in the bag, some 52 percent of Americans said they approved of the way Trump was handling the economy, much higher than his overall approval rating.

Only 11 percent of Americans believe that the economy is the biggest problem facing the country, according to an IPSOS/Reuters poll taken before the recent gyrations.

In the face of this week's unwelcome economic news, Trump's strategy has been to ignore it.

His regular comments talking up the Dow were ripped out of an economic speech on Monday.

On Tuesday it was left to White House aides -- who just days before were touting the "Trump bump" -- to insist that the fundamentals of the economy are strong.

"Does the president have second thoughts about taking credit for a booming economy? Absolutely not," said White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.

"There's nothing that’s taking place over the last couple of days in our economy that's fundamentally different than it was two weeks ago."

"We're infinitely better off today than where we were before the president took office, particularly on the economy," she claimed.

But the breathing space offered on Tuesday's rally may prove temporary.

Analysts still expect the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy, which could put a further crimp on the market.

Continued high employment rates and rising wages -- while good for the broader economy -- would only further add to the pressure on corporate earnings.

And having painted the deficit as a problem, Trump is now under pressure to fix it. But experts warn the cure could be worse than the disease.

Markets have, until now, shrugged off Trump's more protectionist language as "more bark than bite" according to Schwab market analyst Liz Ann Sonders.

But deadlines to decide on Chinese steel tariffs and the future of NAFTA will bring heightened concerns about a damaging trade war.

"A major shift in strategy could have a material impact on global markets and spark a long absent correction," said Sonders.

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