Morgan Stanley Cautions Investors to Prepare for Auto Tariffs

(Bloomberg) -- Investors should prepare for at least a temporary imposition of auto tariffs before this summer, according to Morgan Stanley.

“Although we expect any auto tariffs would be fleeting, the event would certainly create at least some near-term pressure on economic fundamentals and investor sentiment,” Morgan Stanley’s Michael Zezas and Meredith Pickett wrote in a Feb. 13 note, calling it a “low-conviction” view.

While Morgan Stanley expects any tariffs to be rolled back quickly, implementation could happen by the summer, the strategists said.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is expected by Feb. 17 to submit to Trump a report on his investigation assessing how imports of autos and car parts impact U.S. national security. Trump has threatened a tariff of as much as 25 percent and has focused on vehicles from the European Union. The president has pledged to refrain from imposing new levies on cars imported from the EU while the two sides try to reach a broader trade agreement.

Morgan Stanley Cautions Investors to Prepare for Auto Tariffs

In assessing the negative impact of any tariffs, the strategists cited a Center for Automotive Research report from July that said the price of both new and used vehicles would rise, and dealerships would see employment declines and a decrease in revenue.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. are also warning investors to brace for the possibility of tariffs.

A report recommending them could come as a “slight surprise” to financial markets, economist Alec Phillips wrote in a note Friday. He sees a 40 percent chance of broader auto tariffs “at least temporarily,” in an attempt to obtain greater concessions from the European Union and/or Japan.

On the broader trade issue, Morgan Stanley said it doesn’t expect U.S.-China tariffs to rise on March 2.

“We think the feedback loop between weak markets and a more constructive stance for both sides kicked in during the fourth quarter,” the strategists wrote. “Hence, we see both sides as highly motivated to come to terms.”

While Zezas and Pickett think the debt ceiling is unlikely to have much of a market impact, other policy issues on the horizon which may do so include the attempted approval of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, and rhetoric starting to heat up in the 2020 presidential campaign.

“Our policy outlook continues to support our colleagues’ views on U.S. equities (range-bound and likely to test the lows again this year), credit (remains in a bear market), and rates (lower bias on yields into year-end),” the strategists said.

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