President Trump thinks trade deals are rigged against American manufacturers. In his view, the country is being flooded with cheap imports, and existing trade deals aren’t creating the same opportunities abroad for American exporters. The POTUS has even talked about America leaving NAFTA, the free trade area that also includes Canada and Mexico.
There’s certainly some basis for that idea. In 2016, the combined trade deficit with Mexico and Canada amounted to $75 billion. Much of the U.S. auto industry has moved south of the border since NAFTA’s launch in 1994. A better deal for American workers and exporters is needed.
Last month, President Trump told America to get ready for a future without NAFTA:
“Personally, I don’t think we can make a deal because we have been so badly taken advantage of. I think we’ll end up probably terminating NAFTA at some point … We will renegotiate NAFTA or we will terminate NAFTA.”
Trump is talking tough to both Canada and Mexico, threatening to pull America out of the organization if he can’t negotiate better terms of trade. That has investors asking: How would stocks be affected by America leaving NAFTA?
Railways Will Get Hurt
Railway companies earn a lot of their revenue from transporting freight to and from Mexico. Examples include Kansas City Southern—nearly 50% of its revenue is exposed to Mexico—and Union Pacific, which earns about 10% of its revenue from the Mexico trade.
Kansas City Southern took a big hit after President Trump’s election victory, losing 12% of its value over November 8-10. The drop came because of expectation that Trump would revise the terms of trade with Mexico. Kansas City’s stock has recovered since then, but leaving NAFTA would send it into a tailspin.
Importers Will Be Affected
In addition to America leaving NAFTA, President Trump has proposed a 20% tax on all Mexican imports. That might help American industry, especially in the long term. But in the short term, it would hurt some big U.S. importers.
The poster child is New York-based Constellation Brands, which makes most of its money importing Mexican beers such as Corona and Modelo. Its stock price took a hit following last year’s election, although it has performed well of late.
Big retailers like Wal-Mart and Kroger would also be in trouble. Somewhat ironically, General Motors would likely suffer in the short-term, as it sources many of its components from factories in Mexico.
Don’t Bet on Financial Institutions Exposed to Mexico
An exit from NAFTA might hurt the U.S. economy, at least in the short term. It would also certainly cause a recession in Mexico. That would have major implications for the U.S. financial system—anyone remember the “Tequila Crisis” of 1994? As of Q3 2016, America’s biggest banks had more than $100 billion in claims in Mexico.
Smart investors are steering clear of banks and credit card companies with significant assets in Mexico. Examples include Citigroup—which has by far the biggest presence in Mexico—American Express, and Santander Holdings USA. These companies have already moved to limit their presence there, preparing for tough times ahead.
Look to Construction Materials
It’s not all bad news. Some companies would get an instant boost from a U.S. exit from NAFTA. The construction materials industry is one example, and not because of the border wall.
Companies like the Vulcan Materials Company compete directly against Mexican firms, so they would benefit from higher tariffs. Vulcan’s stock shot up 14% in the two days following Trump’s election.