China and the Fog of Trade War

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/23/2018 12:15:00 PM
Watch out: blowback may be severe.
The Trump administration is a triumph of gesture over substance, so it should be no surprise that his China-bashing trademark has the feel of a really lousy made-for-TV "special" wherein signing ceremonies matter more symbolically than the actual policies being implemented. Specifics can wait: see the example of tariffs on steel and aluminum that are still up in the air despite being announced at the start of the month.

That Trump is improvising on trade policy with less-than-comprehensive details from his economic ministers is obvious. My favorite current example is that there isn't even clarity on whether the forthcoming tariffs on Chinese-made goods supposedly taking advantage of intellectual property [IP] violations are worth $50 or $60 billion dollars. Trump likes to style himself as a dealmaker, and so something in that range would be his "opening gambit." This, however, introduces a lot of market uncertainty as to who might be able to wangle "special deals" to limit the harshness of trade penalties.

What we haven then is the fog of trade war in the era of Trump. A reason why I haven't written more about these assorted China-bashing penalties is that, well, many of the details are still up in the air. From what we know so far largely based on (limited) information provided by the USTR, the intellectual property offensive has three parts to it:

I. The unilateral component - applying tariffs on IP-related Chinese exports makes use of the United States "Section 301" concerning sanctioning unfair trade practices by other nations. The reason most are unfamiliar with it is that the law was more widely used during the 1980s before there was a WTO to adjudicate such matters--when current US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer was busy trying to bash the Japanese (not the Chinese) during the Reagan (not the Trump) administration. The whiff of antiquity about its current use is that it hasn't really been deployed all that much since, well, Trump made the old trade warrior Robert Lighthizer his point man after a hiatus of nearly four decades.

Usually, an order of the cease-and-desist variety (here of allegedly unfair trade practices) clearly states which behaviors must be halted immediately. Unfortunately for the Chinese, the grand signing ceremony was all show; Lighthizer has yet to unveil what exactly it is that will be targeted:
The President has instructed the Trade Representative to publish a proposed list of products and any tariff increases within 15 days of today’s announcement.  After a period of notice and comment, the Trade Representative will publish a final list of products and tariff increases.
So in response to $50-60 billion worth of Chinese goods to be penalized, the PRC has only identified $3B worth of American exports to China to retaliate against. It's early days still, and China cannot be expected to calibrate its response when these American unilateral actions are under a cloud. Alike the tariffs on steel and aluminum, these are eminently questionable from the standpoint of WTO legality. Speaking of which there is also...

II. The multilateral (WTO) component - for a guy criticizing the WTO for allowing unfair practices of American to persist for so long, it's interesting that Trump and his administration are nonetheless attempting to bring a case against China regarding IP. Just today, the United States filed a case there:
"China appears to be breaking WTO rules by denying foreign patent holders, including U.S. companies, basic patent rights to stop a Chinese entity from using the technology after a licensing contract ends," the U.S. Trade Representative's office said in a statement.

"China also appears to be breaking WTO rules by imposing mandatory adverse contract terms that discriminate against and are less favorable for imported foreign technology," it said. Such policies interfered with foreign technology holders' ability to set market-based terms in licensing and other technology-related contracts, it said.
Parts I and II are inconsistent in the sense that I undermines the whole WTO system by suggesting might makes right: because the US is such a powerful country economically, it can pretty do what it pleases unilaterally. Yet, in the same breath, II wants to use the very same WTO it undermines by taking such courses of action to pursue IP remedies. What will it be? China will certainly be looking at making its own WTO case against forthcoming tariffs on its goods in I. Maybe the real question in the meantime is whether the WTO still matters by then while the US alternately seeks to undermine and uphold it.

III. The investment component - as many have noticed, preventing further Chinese investment in US firms to presumably stop the PRC from gaining more American technology is rather redundant. Since the Committee of Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) has dissuaded Chinese firms for a long time from buying American technology companies on "national security" grounds, what's different here? This from the Obama era circa 2015:
For more than a decade, China has complained about what it maintains has been a pattern of erratic and politicized treatment of Chinese investors when they attempt to acquire US companies. The Chinese want the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to be more open and transparent in its rulings and to not discriminate against Chinese firms. The United States is not likely to accede to these demands in any formal or legal manner.
How much more PRC "technology-" or "security-"related investment in the US is there to stop when almost all of it is stopped while subject to CFIUS scrutiny? See the egregious example of Jack Ma's Ant Financial being stopped from buying money transfer service MoneyGram or even (Singapore-based) Broadcom's proposed merger with (US-based) Qualcomm. Broadcom is not even PRC-based, but they made it sound like another unwanted Chinese intrusion in the technology space.

BOTTOM LINE: In a sensible world, the Chinese would accede to American wishes to not so explicitly make technology transfer provisions for foreign companies wishing to enter the Chinese market. In exchange, the free-spending Americans would acknowledge that such profligacy inevitably means foreigners would come to own more and more of its largest debtor's (US) properties. In the real world, though, we get few of these things and a trade war in which many details are...covered in fog as mutual grievances fester. Stay tuned as we navigate this opacity.

And no, I don't believe anyone "wins" a trade war.

Did Golfer Greg Norman Save Oz From Tariffs?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 3/17/2018 10:24:00 PM
Who you gonna call when Trump's hitting your country with tariffs? Golfing great Greg Norman.
I'll have more to say about the United States being poised to apply $50 billion worth of tariffs annually on China over alleged intellectual property theft and related issues, but I wanted to get this news out of the way first as it involves one of the countries Trump does not consider an ally by any means. Just today, we received news that a lot of American (military) allies are going to be exempted from the forthcoming tariffs on steel. At this rate we're losing track of Trump's trade measures, but it turns out Australia is among those getting a free pass as confirmed by the USTR:
The United States trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, said on Thursday that several American allies would initially be exempt from the steel and aluminum tariffs that are to take effect shortly. Speaking at a meeting of the Senate Finance Committee, Mr. Lighthizer said that the European Union, along with Argentina, Australia, Brazil and South Korea, would be exempted. Canada and Mexico were earlier left off the list of countries subject to the tariffs.
As a side note to the exemption, it may have been the case that a famous name lobbying for the Aussie side could have swayed Trump. He is none other than Australian golfing great Greg Norman--nicknamed the Shark--winner of multiple major titles (but famously never the Masters Tournament). From the sport, remember that Trump owns many golf courses--some regularly featured on professional tours--Norman became a friend of Trump. Being wise, the Australian government sought his help:
Golfing legend and Donald Trump mate Greg Norman was "called in" to lobby the US President on Australia's behalf over steel tariffs, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has confirmed...

Mr Norman was among a number of senior business leaders to petition Mr Trump in a letter reminding him of the US's trade surplus with Australia, as well as the two countries' long-standing defence ties.

Mr Norman is a good friend of Mr Trump's, bonding through a mutual passion for golf. When Mr Trump won the presidency, Australian ambassador to Washington Joe Hockey called Mr Norman on behalf of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to find out Mr Trump's mobile phone number."I don't normally give out cell phone numbers of people in my database, but considering it was for the Prime Minister to call the President of the United States, I thought that would be the right thing to do," Mr Norman later explained.
The full letter signed by Australian business leaders...and Greg Norman, of course, you can find here. With Trump, it appears flattery will get you places, no matter how the saying goes. 

Maybe Trump Admin's Intent is to Leave the WTO

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 3/07/2018 04:24:00 PM
It may be an American farewell to the WTO building on the shores of Lake Geneva real soon.
As I've written in a previous post, it is unlikely that the United States will win a case against its proposed tariffs on imported steel (Trump mentions 25%) and aluminum (10%) if one is brought by the affected exporting countries. While there is a clause as I've also mentioned for applying such tariffs if the nebulous "national security" reason is invoked, [a] there is no real precedent for doing so and [b] it's unlikely to be sustained since American defense industries only represent 3% of steel demand.

But, consider this: What if Trump is going into this fully knowing that he will be ruled against? This could be a political ploy that works in favor of his "war on globalists" Bannonite shtick. If the WTO is "against America" as a losing ruling would indicate, then why not just leave altogether? That's how MarketWatch's Greg Robb sees how things may pan out:
There is concern among trade experts that President Donald Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum may eventually give the administration an excuse to walk out of the World Trade Organization entirely.

It is not difficult to sketch out a scenario where the Trump administration would just say “that’s it, we are leaving,” said Jennifer Hillman, a fellow at the Institute of International Economic Law at Georgetown University, on a conference call with reporters sponsored by the Atlantic Council. Trump is planning to justify the sweeping tariffs on the grounds that the foreign imports threaten national security.

Foreign government are likely to quickly go to the WTO and ask that the tariffs be ruled illegal. Hillman said the U.S. may counter by saying it was taking the action under Article 21 of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which Hillman called the untested “third rail” of trade laws. Essentially, the article says that some binding tariff agreements can be broken during wartime.
That is, a "biased" losing ruling--which is the generally expected outcome--would be the pretense to end American participation at the WTO:
The WTO panel might rule anyway, setting up a standoff. This suggests to some that the whole reason to go down the national security route is really to create a crisis so the U.S. can withdraw from the WTO, Hillman said.
It was previously unthinkable that something like this could happen since the Americans of old came up with the entire idea of a WTO. With Trump, the impossible has a way of becoming the probable. Let's see if the Republicans can rein in their "rogue" president as times have changed...and we haven't even gotten around to talking about the fate of NAFTA yet.

Tariff Terrorist Trump, Meet Tariff-Cutting Congress

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 3/05/2018 11:30:00 AM
Yay! Cheaper GAP vest soon care of...American politicians?
I will soon have (rather lots) more to say about the upcoming Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum. Since the US Trade Representative has not yet finalized the terms as to whether some countries or US domestic industries buying from abroad are exempt among other details, there is still some uncertainty about their ultimate form. That is, the full extent of the economic terror Trump will unleash on global markets is still up in the air.

In the meantime, though, consider this: the American congress is considering legislation that will cut tariffs on a grab-bag of imported goods currently falling under the miscellaneous tariff bill. So, it's like a push-pull set of messages from the American executive and legislature that's got us foreigners rather confused. A handful of protectionist US lawmakers still want to keep it largely intact, though:
Even as President Trump threatens to slap protective tariffs on steel and aluminum, lawmakers are moving forward with legislation to lower trade barriers on hundreds of other products, from chemicals to toasters, in a bid to lower costs for U.S. companies and consumers.

Supporters of the so-called miscellaneous tariff bill, which unanimously passed the House of Representatives in January, say it would boost the economy by getting rid of tariffs designed to protect U.S. industries that no longer exist. The National Association of Manufacturers says U.S. companies pay hundreds of millions of dollars each year on unnecessary import fees.

Critics say that miscellaneous tariff bills, which began decades ago as modest efforts to help U.S. manufacturers, have in recent years become sprawling packages of tariff reductions that undercut domestic producers without the means to defend their interests in Washington.

Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, a Democrat who worked to get several products removed from the current bill, said Congress should do a better job to ensure tariff reductions do not impede U.S. producers. “Miscellaneous Tariff Bills should help, not hurt American manufacturers,” Brown said in a statement to Reuters.
The original bill is said to have become severely distorted. Intended to lower the cost of importing intermediate goods American manufacturers purchase from abroad, it's since become a sprawling bit of legislation covering more of finished articles:
Miscellaneous tariff bills were originally conceived in the 1980s as a way of lowering costs for U.S. manufacturers that could not get chemicals and other component products from domestic sources. The original point of the efforts“was to encourage domestic manufacturing,” recalls Jennifer Hillman, who worked on the legislation as a Senate staffer in the 1980s and 1990s.

All but two of the 163 items in a 1999 version of the bill, for example, were used in the manufacturing process, according to a House Ways and Means Committee report. Since then, Congress has broadened successive tariff bills to include many finished products that can go straight to store shelves.

Only 55 percent of the items in the current bill are“intermediate goods” used in manufacturing, according to applications filed with the International Trade Commission. Many of the rest are finished consumer products. 
The apparent disjoint between Trumpian protectionism and the apparently more favorable trade outlook of American lawmakers does reflect wider societal conflicts over the desirability of free trade. Even within the Republican party alone, there is a pronounced difference of opinion. Meanwhile, those of us in the rest of the world will have to learn the nuances of US political economy to come up with an informed view of how this key trading nation treats the issue.

Trump Escalates Trade War: Steel & Aluminum

♠ Posted by Emmanuel at 3/01/2018 07:07:00 PM
If Trump goes down, he's decided to take the world economy with him.
It's no secret that the Trump administration is besieged on all sides now. As White House staffers flee or begin to leave Trump's sinking ship while it takes fire from every conceivable direction, Trump has decided to make a distraction he believes will distract public attention. While hosting American steel executives today, he went against the wisdom of his saner (read: non-white nationalist, non-xenophobic, non-protectionist) advisers. It's the Trump equivalent of damn the torpedoes as far as economic matters are concerned as cooler heads have definitely not prevailed:
President Trump on Thursday said he had decided to impose punishing tariffs on imported steel and aluminum in a major escalation of his trade offensive, disappointing Republican congressional leaders and inviting retaliation by U.S. trading partners.

Speaking at the White House, the president said he had decided on tariffs of 25 percent for foreign-made steel and 10 percent for aluminum. “We’ll be signing it next week. And you’ll have protection for a long time in a while,” the president said. “You’ll have to regrow your industries, that’s all I’m asking.”
While tariffs on steel applied by the United States are fairly common, the stated reasons this time around raise a lot of eyebrows--especially among American trade partners that will be affected. The 2002 tariffs George W. Bush was "conventional" in invoking what are known as "safeguards" in the event of a sudden surge of imports that threatens domestic industry. Ultimately, the United States backed down after two years. Not only did other countries make a WTO case against America, but they won by demonstrating that there was no sudden, sharp increase in America's steel exports. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Probably to get around this line of response by other countries, the United States is now citing that all-purpose chestnut, "national security." While there is a WTO clause concerning when such justifications are valid, it is most likely not going to be considered as such with America's current case. Simply put, it is highly dubious claim that longstanding purchases by US manufacturers of foreign-made steel threaten to undermine US security. Is the situation different now compared to before Trump and his protectionist lackeys? For instance, have foreign producers begun sell the US substandard steel to undermine American safety for use in infrastructure, automobile manufacture and so on? I don't think so.
The president’s move, relying upon a little-used provision of U.S. trade law, is expected to trigger immediate legal challenges by U.S. trading partners at the World Trade Organization and invite retaliation against American exports.

Trump also turned back pleas from companies that are heavy users of steel and aluminum, including automakers, who warn that higher prices will hurt their sales and potentially lead to layoffs. In 2002, the last time the United States imposed steel tariffs, steel users blamed the measures for the loss of up to 200,000 jobs.
The likely near-term responses of the others will probably include retaliatory, tit-for-tat tariffs on products which the US exports to them. In the medium term, the affected countries will probably file another multi-country case at the WTO arguing precisely what I've suggested. That is, "national security" justifications as offered by the Trump administration are inadmissible at the WTO dispute settlement mechanism.

Also, expect China to be more proactive this time around. More often than not, it's been at the receiving end of the US filing WTO cases against it. With Trump going bonkers, it needs to make a stand sometime lest it be hit with other protectionist measures:
On Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry repeated its government’s objections. “The United States is disregarding the rules of the WTO, and China is dissatisfied with this,” spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular news conference. She said such measures would affect employment in the United States and affect the interests of the United States’ consumers. “As for the actions of the United States, China will take proper measures to safeguard its legitimate rights and interests.”
Why are Trump steel tariffs made on dubious grounds worse than George W. Bush ones? My view is as stated above: Trump's are made on justifications that are several magnitudes flimsier and won't withstand scrutiny. I predict a rough patch for world trade over the next few months; that much is obvious. However, I also predict that a WTO complaint filed at the WTO against the United States has an even higher chance of succeeding than the earlier (unfavorable) ruling on the Bush steel tariffs. It is then that the US will have to decide--if we get there--whether to withdraw support altogether for an institution it's been the main proponent of all these years. Now that would really set world trade afire. 

However, the rather more likely possibility is that even the Trump administration will back down as pressure from various constituencies and their lawmakers mounts. Remember, there are far more US-based customers of imported steel than there are American steelmakers. My belief is that Trump's trade action is an act of economic desperation as he is under political siege. Ironically, it is the American and, most likely, the wider world economy that will have to suffer the consequences of this vainglorious jackass's attempt to distract from the chaos surrounding the American executive branch..

Aramco IPO: Why Saudis Turned Oil Price Hawks

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/25/2018 11:32:00 AM

There's a neat story from the folks over at Oil Price about how the Saudis have done an about-face on the price of traded oil. For the longest time, they were considered as being among the least "activist" in the commodity cartel OPEC [Organization of Oil Producing and Exporting Countries]. That is, they did not push for boosting oil prices by crimping production of OPEC member countries. In recent years, though, that has changed as they've turned from "doves" content with a lower price of oil to "hawks" seeking to increase this price.

The proximate cause of this apparent change of heart is the imminent initial public offering [IPO] of Saudi Aramco, the state-owned energy behemoth. Many of the specifics of that listing are not yet known: where the listing is to be made and how much of the company is to be floated:
Saudi Arabia is undergoing a truly seismic shift in its economy, politics, and society, all thanks to the oil price crash of 2014. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, commonly referred to as MBS, would likely not have had the opportunity to initiate the sweeping changes envisaged in Vision 2030 had it not been for the price collapse. Now, Riyadh needs oil prices to rise as high as possible for the plan to succeed — and is even ready to tip the market into a deficit to that end.

Saudi Arabia used to be OPEC’s most influential price dove, according to Bloomberg’s Grant Smith. Now, the kingdom has adopted a markedly different approach. Saudi Arabia is now focused on pushing prices as high as it can for a very simple reason: Aramco’s IPO.
The change is rather dramatic. Consider the changing stances of Saudi Arabia and its ideological arch-rival within OPEC, Iran:
When oil surged to almost $150 in 2008, attempts by Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi to cool the rally also faced opposition from other OPEC nations eager to enjoy soaring revenues. Prices slumped the following year during the Great Recession.

The dynamic is showing some signs of reversing. After Brent crude shot above $70 in late January, Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh of Iran -- an OPEC producer that often used to agitate for higher prices -- said that $60 was sufficient.

Emboldened by the success of their strategy so far, the Saudis are now pursuing price levels that will ultimately lead to failure, said Eugen Weinberg, head of commodity market research at Commerzbank AG in Frankfurt.
If the listing of Saudi Aramco is the proximate cause, the longer-term one is rather more interesting and less obvious. Vision 2030 is mentioned and refers in no small part to the post-fossil fuel plan that Saudi Arabia has which obviously has the potential to upend its longstanding fuel-driven political economy. You see, proceeds from the IPO of Saudi Aramco are expected to fund the implementation of Vision 2030. If you are going to undertake fairly drastic economy- and society-wide changes, you would obviously be better of doing them under favorable economic conditions (read: high oil prices in the near future).

So, the inescapable implication here is that to successfully transition to a post-fossil fuel future, Saudi Arabia would benefit from higher energy revenues at the present time to fund Vision 2030. Strange but true:
Aramco’s IPO is crucial for Vision 2030, as the proceeds from the sale will be the fuel that this ambitious plan runs on. While analysts disagree strongly on exactly how much Aramco is worth, it’s clear that the higher oil prices are, the higher the valuation for this oil giant will be.
Pulling off Vision 2030's ambitious objectives is by no means guaranteed. Ironically, though, successfully weaning the kingdom off oil is more likely when oil prices are high rather than when they are low as Saudi Aramco is being listed as a "legacy" business--albeit a behemoth on the world energy stage.

Can Trump Delay Non-White Majority America?

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 2/21/2018 05:56:00 PM
Few intellectually honest observers would dispute that Donald Trump's election was based in no small part on channeling white ethno-nationalist fears. More specifically, the United States is expected to become a non-white majority country mid-century. Estimates vary, but it's estimated to happen possibly in 2044 at the earliest. Trump's unapologetically racist tirades and policies against Mexicans, Muslims and other non-white and/or non-Christian people appeal to precisely this white ethno-nationalist base fearful of non-white majority America.

A recent New York Times op-ed puts it in simpler terms: Trump wants to Make America White Again, or turn back the clock to an earlier time when the colored people knew their (subordinate) place in (white-dominated) American society. You know, the good ol' days for the good ol' boys:
The White House is assertively working to make America white again, and Democrats are too afraid to speak that truth. The aggressive pace of deportations of immigrants of color, the elimination of the DACA program protecting immigrant children and the proposals propounded by the anti-immigration voices in the administration will all have the undeniable effect of slowing the rapid racial diversification of the United States population.
But how much can Trump really change demographic forces in the making for decades upon decades? The answer is the economist's "only on the margin." The Washington Post's analysis is similar to most in that it's like trying to hold back a waterfall. Or, in numerical terms, five measly years at most. Factor in the lowered annual intake if Trump and the restrictionists got their way:
The Post analyzed a low-end and high-end estimate for cuts to legal immigration under the Trump plan. The low-end estimate, provided by NumbersUSA, a group that favors limiting immigration, suggests that about 300,000 fewer immigrants will be admitted legally on an annual basis. A high-end estimate from the Cato Institute, which favors immigration, suggests that as many as 500,000 fewer immigrants would be admitted. Cato bases its number, in part, on assumptions that more family visa categories will be cut.
It doesn't sound like much of a delay, and it has more to do with domestic demographic trends (births/deaths among whites/non-white citizens) than it does with the in-migration of non-whites. 

(Disappearing) American Mall, the Video Game

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 2/18/2018 01:48:00 PM

Like (I hope) the IPE Zone blog itself, there's an amusingly droll American Mall video game developed by, of all people, Bloomberg. With consumer spending constituting the lion's share of economic output in most countries, the fate of the shopping mall format is of considerable political-economic interest. The anchor department store...the food court...the originators of these retail concepts are American through and through. Having created it, the Americans are now at the cutting edge of retail evolution in moving away from the mall in a big way. What will it hold for retail in other countries?

It's hard to tell what will happen elsewhere. Among other things, there's less of a glut of retail floor space in other countries as well as the emergence of the mall as something more than a "shopping" destination. For instance, in the highly Catholic Philippines, its largest mall features regular church services.

At any rate, enjoy the video game. It's even developed something of a following online:
Average gamers are playing about 4 minutes per session, though it’s topped one hour for some. And, for now, this is the only game in town for, but it is its most ambitious storytelling to date. (The site built The Trading Game, about picking stocks, two years ago.) The highest scorers are those who keep the mall open the longest, as of this writing more than 2,000 days. 

China's (Stock) Plunge Protection Team Rides Again

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 2/12/2018 02:16:00 PM
When the guy on the left is on the loose in stock markets, you need the guy on the right. Right?
Well this is rich: The People's Republic of China has been fighting the United States and the European Union at the World Trade Organization over still being designated as a "non-market economy," implying that state intervention matters a lot more in the PRC relative to allowing market forces to work things out. At the same time, Chinese officialdom appears to be doing all sorts of actions that contradict laissez-faire economic governance necessary to improve its designation.

Just as the recent US-led stock crash has laid low stock markets around the world, Chinese powers-that-be have mounted an aggressive defense of PRC-listed stocks. Demonstrating rather "non-market economy" phenomena, it's been "encouraging" [read: do it or suffer all sorts of consequences] large shareholders to buoy their stock holdings:
An affiliate of China’s securities regulator on Monday encouraged major shareholders of domestically-listed firms to increase their holdings, after Chinese stocks were mauled in a global sell-off last week.

The call represents the clearest signal yet from the Chinese government to lend support to a market rocked by recent global volatility, China’s deleveraging campaign and fears of margin calls. It also stirs memories of government intervention during China’s 2015 stock market crash, when companies were also urged to buy shares and state-backed funds were pumped into the market.

China Securities Investor Services Center, directly managed by the China Securities Regulatory Commission (CSRC), said in an emailed statement that share purchases by major shareholders could help stabilize the market and shows big shareholders stick with retail investors “through thick and thin”.
Hence, China's equivalent of the plunge protection team rides again. The ploy is designed to boost confidence among mom-and-pop investors riding through a fairly turbulent patch at the moment:
Such a practice would “bring confidence to small investors, and have a positive impact” on the market, the center said, encouraging major shareholders and senior executives of listed companies to increase shares if they have not yet done so. Chinese stocks fell nearly 10 percent last week, the worst weekly performance in two years as investors dumped shares across the board.
China's leadership is very keen on appearances, so it's no surprise that the last time their plunge protection was at it was during last year's run-up to the Communist Party Congress.

These guys run a "non-market economy." Nuff said.

UPDATE: Note that the media designation of those buoying PRC stocks in actually the "national team" as opposed to the American "plunge protection team." Regardless, the objective for either is the same. 

Canada's Trudeau: To Save NAFTA, Avoid Trump

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in , at 2/12/2018 01:57:00 PM
Trudeau's ploy to save NAFTA consists of going around Trump.
If there ever was a misleadingly titled article, consider this one from Bloomberg on Canadian PM Justin Trudeau seeing a "clear path forward" on NAFTA. You see, the path he's taken is to largely bypass the Americans actually responsible for (re)negotiating trade deals, namely Trump and his trade representative Robert Lighthizer. Instead, Trudeau has taken his case directly to [a] representatives whose constituents will lose out from NAFTA's demise and [b] companies presumably with strong lobbying arms who would also be negatively affected:
Trudeau’s government has been attempting to win support from U.S. lawmakers and businesses to keep Trump from pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, as he’s repeatedly threatened to do. Canadian efforts also come amid signs U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is growing more frustrated with the country.

“There is a clear path forward and we’re working very hard together on that path,” Trudeau said Saturday in Los Angeles. He spoke alongside Mayor Eric Garcetti, one of many prominent Democrats he met with. Canada wants to “ensure that we can move forward in a way that is a win-win for all of us.”

Garcetti hailed Canadian investment in his city and said Trudeau’s trip was well-received. “This is deeply important work the prime minister is doing.”
Canada's NAFTA game plan was already spelled out sometime ago. If anything, this is not a "clear path forward" for a number of reasons. First, as I've mentioned, Trudeau's path appears more circuitous than direct through bypassing the formal counterparties to the NAFTA re(negotiations)--Trump, Lighthizer, and others in the executive branch. So, he's trying to raise support in a roundabout manner even if you can argue that Trudeau is actually appealing to those with a greater stake here--namely, NAFTA-participating regions and companies.

Second, despite me and many other trade commentators believing that only the US Congress can undo NAFTA having put in into effect, there is no guarantee that [i] Trump will not try to get out of the deal single-handedly if talks do not yield progress and [ii] Congress can successfully overrule Trump if he does announce the US is leaving NAFTA.

Trudeau acknowledges as much. From his Grand Tour of America:
At the University of Chicago on Feb. 7, Trudeau said he was “legitimately concerned about the future of Nafta...” Friday in Los Angeles, Trudeau warned he didn’t “think anyone can now entirely predict or understand” the impacts on the three countries if Nafta were to end.
To be fair, Trudeau's administration has just filed an unprecedented Pretty Much Everyone Else vs. USA case at the WTO that has soured trade relations between the two countries. For WTO cases, you typically argue for your own trade interests, not for everyone's against some big, bad country. If Trump's trade negotiators like inserting "poison pills" during ongoing NAFTA talks, then Canada's shoving some pretty unsavory stuff down US throats, too, at the WTO.

Ultimately, I don't think Trudeau buys that the path forward is clear, either.