Concern about Trump's trade war has 'spiked tremendously' among America's largest companies

  • President Donald Trump launched a months-long trade war in March by imposing various tariffs.

  • Companies in the S&P 500 are starting to take notice of the trade battles.

  • According to analysts, mentions of the word "tariff" on S&P 500 earnings calls has skyrocketed to the highest in recent history.

President Donald Trump's trade war has started to grab the attention of some of America's largest companies.

Throughout the second-quarter earnings season, S&P 500 firms across the spectrum have weighed in on the president's tariffs on steel, aluminum, Chinese goods, and more. Companies ranging from Apple, to Stanley Black & Decker, to BlackRock have discussed the tariffs on their quarterly conference calls with investors and analysts.

According to an analysis by CB Insights, mentions of the word "tariff" on earnings calls hit a record high on second-quarter earnings calls, even before the most recent round of threats between Trump and China.

"Mentions of tariffs in earnings calls reached a historic high this past quarter," the report said. "Mentions of the words 'trade war' have also spiked tremendously."

According to Bespoke Investment Group, mentions of tariffs have more than doubled compared to first-quarter earnings.

"For the entire Q1 earnings season, the word 'tariff' came up 290 different times in S&P 500 conference calls (in some calls, the word came up more than once), while during this earnings season, the term has already come up 609 different times," Bespoke said in a note Wednesday.

The tariff mentions mostly came up during calls for companies in the sectors of industrials (mentioned on 65% of calls), materials (57% of calls), and consumer staples (56%), according to Bespoke. The mentions in these sectors make sense, considering Trump's tariffs so far have focused mainly on industrial machinery, materials like steel or aluminum, and large appliances like washing machines.

The corporate concern reflects similar comments from various business surveys over the past few months. For instance, many businesses brought up concerns about Trump's trade policies in Wednesday's Institute of Supply Management, or ISM, manufacturing purchasing managers index.

"The so-called trade war is now taking its toll on business activity, resulting in substantial reductions to new export orders," one manager at a wood products company told ISM. "China has all but stopped taking orders, causing inventories to build up in the US."

The steel and aluminum tariffs also concerned the respondents.

"We have already seen steel prices increase due to the threat of the tariffs and are seeing kickback from our customers due to the higher prices," a fabricated metal products producer said. "We are concerned that the end customer will go to off shore to purchase the finished product."

The ISM survey contains similar comments to various Federal Reserve surveys and consumer confidence indexes. In each of those surveys, Americans reported increasing price pressures and worries about the future of Trump's trade war.

While the concern from large companies is starting to boil up, the pain appears to be limited to certain sectors and has not slowed down the broader economy yet. But that could change soon.

Trump has threatened to impose tariffs on another $200 billion worth of Chinese goods, including many consumer products, as well as imports of cars. Either move would represent a major escalation of the trade war and would ensnare a much larger swath of companies in the tariff fights.

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