Trump doesn’t realize the impact trade war could have on his voters, asset manager warns

Finance news

President Donald Trump’s administration is failing to recognize the negative effect America’s trade dispute with China and other countries will have on his voters, an investment chief told CNBC.

Mark Phelps, chief investment officer of concentrated global growth at AllianceBernstein, said that the prime victim of the sparring of tariffs between the U.S., China and others will be consumers, because companies will likely conclude that they need to raise prices to deal with a downturn in imports from trading partners.

“At the moment, most of the companies I know that sell, particularly from China, into the United States are just at the moment talking about putting prices up, I don’t think they’re going to stop selling,” Phelps told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe.”

“Who is that going to affect? The U.S. consumer,” he added. “I’m still not sure the Trump administration realizes quite how negative that may be to some of his voters when they really think about how much their prices are going to go up.”

Phelps said AllianceBernstein is meeting with U.S. home improvement supplies retailer Home Depot on Wednesday to see if they expect to shift their strategy in any way as a result of the tariffs. He said the firm would likely discuss measures to mitigate the effect of tariffs, but said he also expected an increase in prices to be on the cards.

“I think you’re going to see significant moves up in price — what does that mean for consumption?” Phelps said. “If consumption drops then obviously that has an effect on profitability.”

He also implied that heightened protectionism could affect the long-term investment decisions of shareholders.

“What does that mean for our investment in those companies?” Phelps said, adding: “That’s what we’re trying to do, you’re trying to think through those long-term effects, and it’s very hard to be categoric yet about this.”

The analyst is not alone in warning of the potential impacts trade tariffs could have on consumers. In fact, a number of well-known American firms, including Walmart, Coca-Cola and General Motors, have warned they could be forced to raise their prices.

The U.S. this week ramped up the pressure on China in its trade battle with the country. Washington imposed a 10 percent levy on $200 billion of Chinese goods entering the U.S., including furniture and appliances. Trump plans to increase that tariff rate to 25 percent by the end of the year.

So far, a total of $250 billion worth of Chinese products have been targeted by the U.S. duties. There is speculation the Trump administration could extend tariffs to cover the entirety of Chinese imports, drastically escalating the geopolitical tension between the two nations.

And America’s trade conflict with Canada has also re-entered the spotlight. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Tuesday that the U.S. was prepared to leave Canada behind in its trade negotiations with Mexico, adding that talks between Washington and Ottawa were at an impasse.

WATCH: A (brief) history of the world’s trade wars